What startups are missing when they talk about the 'consumer' experience

Panelists at Rock Health's summit discuss what Silicon Valley is missing about creating digital health for all.
By Laura Lovett
03:23 pm
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The health systems of tomorrow could look a lot more inclusive, according to a group of panelists at Rock Health’s annual summit. In particular, panelists focused on how the health tech space could be revamped for more diverse populations with diverse needs. 

“When I think about the healthcare system of tomorrow I’m very much focused on the lessons we can learn from this year of dual crisis. Obviously the [COVID-19] crisis but also our crisis around racial injustice,” Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, said during the panel. “As I think about the future of the delivery system, I am focused on taking a very broad look at health. … I think as we move towards the next stage of our ability to meet our communities where they are, we have to think broadly about health. Some of that is the social determinants of health … but it is also an equity agenda.”

While innovators continue to focus on making the healthcare system more convenient, they may be missing some patients. For example, the term “consumerization” continues to surface in the healthcare world, but Dr. Sachin Jain, president and CEO of SCAN Group and SCAN Health Plan, argues that "consumer" is a blanket term that in the past hasn’t included all patients.

“I think one of the biggest challenges we have is, we treat the consumer experience as if it is a singular experience for all consumers. But the reality is, consumers in this country are as diverse as this country is, and their needs are as different as they are,” Jain said. “I think we have a nation of people who have very diverse needs some of whom have significant distrust in the healthcare system … One of the challenges that Silicon Valley has had in actually changing healthcare problems at scale is that we too often have entrepreneurs who are reflecting their own experiences onto what the challenges are in the healthcare system.”

When developing new digital tools and modes of care, that address equity, panelists said trust is key.

“I’m very focused on trust. As we think about developing a patient centric system, trust is really important and I think it links to the equity issue I mentioned before. We need to meet this moment and make sure we have delivery systems that communities can trust and want to access,” Cohen said.

When it comes to developing technologies, Mandy said that it’s important to strike a balance between in-person care and tech solutions. Additionally, she said that it is crucial to tailor efforts towards the specific population you are serving, rather than rolling out one blanket program for everyone. 

“I think we are going to have a lot of work to do on the trust piece of this, and I think we need to acknowledge the structural racism that exists within healthcare. We have to acknowledge it and then we have to fix it. That means we need to have to map time and resources to those things if we want to be patient-centric.”

One way to build that trust, she said, is by meeting people where they are in terms of priorities. She gave the example of a patient who has a high A1c level, but whose main focus or stressor is paying the rent at the end of the month. Improving health outcomes for this patient would also mean improving living quality.  

One of the main themes of today’s panel was not just trust, but also the importance of doctor patient relationships. 

“I’m definitely afraid, as we have the 'Silicon Valley-ization' of American healthcare, we are going to boil it down to transactions as opposed to fully recognizing the importance of relationships, and actually driving behavior-changes ultimately drives outcomes,” Jain said. 

But keeping health equity front and center in innovation could help change the future of care.

“There are things people need to be thinking about: Are you designing your solutions for those marginalized communities? What do your management and board teams look like from a diversity, equity [and] inclusiveness complexion?” Laurie McGraw, SVP of health solutions for the American Medical Association, said. “Those are things that need to be done.”

 

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