Tuesday, Feb 27, 2024

First Techquity for Health Case Study Competition Winners Announced: A Groundswell of Action on Health Equity

HLTH Foundation

Winners of the first HLTH Foundation Techquity for Health Coalition Case Study Competition have been announced! 

At the outset, we hoped to receive 25-50 applications to help us begin understanding the landscape for health techquity projects, showcase best practices and, building on previous research, define a broad set of techquity recommendations for healthcare.

Instead, the inaugural competition attracted nearly 200 submissions from providers, insurers, government agencies, digital health vendors and professional services firms reaching across the United States and as far as India. 

Sometimes it takes a deliberate outreach to recognize a groundswell of change. Among the reviewers, reading and scoring the applications was cause for celebration. After developing, testing and tweaking a scoring rubric and thoroughly reviewing the submissions, eleven outstanding projects were awarded at ViVE. It is a certainty that sharing this work will lead to positive change for people experiencing health disparities in the US. 

An enormous body of work exists, going back decades, that documents health-related social risks, systemic inequities and their resulting harms. Study after study provides proof of effective approaches for reducing or eliminating avoidable illness and loss of life. But there is less evidence as to the most effective means of achieving health equity when technology and data are introduced into the equation of care delivery.

Based on foundational research, The Techquity for Health Coalition defined techquity in healthcare as the strategic design, distribution and availability of technology to advance health equity. Equally important, the Coalition adopted as part of its scope an intentional effort to avoid exacerbating existing inequities and outcomes disparities as a routine aspect of technology innovation, data governance and management. 

We humans excel at creating, but are spectacularly incapable of forecasting and averting challenges that arise with innovation ahead of it becoming broadly available. Each of these submissions shows that adopting the mantra of ‘intentional effort’ and applying principles such as validating new initiatives with intended users, forming broad collaborations, returning value to the community and assembling diverse teams, can lead to successes that accrue well beyond the scope of the original goals. 

I invite you to read a summary of each project as an act of hope. And coming soon, watch for our report and analysis of the winners and full set of submissions:

Congratulations to the 2024 winners of the Techquity for Health Case Study Competition!

Winner: Equity Quotient

Award: Techquity Pioneer - for exceptional leadership in techquity

Submission Category: health data initiative

Accepting: Christina van Houten, CEO

Description & Rationale: platform centralizing a public health dashboard and SaaS solution that consolidates socioeconomic and health data to aid leaders across healthcare organizations (from HR to finance to legal), in decision-making, compliance and improving care outcomes. This solution offers a forward-thinking approach to health equity analytics and reporting, with ability to gather and analyze data from disparate sources and potential to generate new insights and health equity metrics across the enterprise.

Winner: Community CareLink

Award: Collaborative Effort - for a particularly ambitious collaboration between different entities

Submission Category: Digital health innovation 

Accepting: Dale Gray, CEO

Description & Rationale: STRIVIN tackled the fragmented social services in Jackson County, Missouri, especially for victims of traumatic events like gun violence, by connecting them to necessary support through a case management software system. STRIVIN included established a diverse referral platform, implementing trauma-informed responses, promoting cross-sector collaboration, enhancing resource accessibility, and measuring the impact through data analytics.The program's innovative software helped unite broad stakeholders in the community, facilitating shared well-being goals and a model for cross-sector approaches in social service delivery.

Winner: Planned Parenthood Federation of America 

Award: Patient Champion - for use of digital health to achieve exceptional advocacy on behalf of patients

Submission Category: Digital health innovation

Accepting: Dawn Laguens, Chief Global Strategy and Innovation 

Description & Rationale: Planned Parenthood and Vitala Global partnered to serve the Latinx community to bridge gaps in care and support with providing culturally relevant digital tools for abortion care and information. The collaboration delivered a digital tool for Spanish-speaking users in need of abortion care information, services, and post-abortion emotional support. Utilizing Planned Parenthood’s digital reach and WhatsApp chat, trained Spanish-speaking educators provided a secure, anonymous channel for users to receive personalized support and information for patients facing fear and lack of information in a post-Roe world, with a focus on maintaining confidentiality and addressing the emotional aspects of the abortion journey.

Winner: AdirA LLC

Award: Exemplary Health Intervention - a direct intervention that has achieved or has potential to significantly improve health outcomes

Submission Category: Direct health intervention 

Accepting: Anna Kravets, President and Co-Founder AdirA 

Description & Rationale: AdirA LLC, a worldwide pharmaceutical company’s health equity team, and the Black Women's Health Imperative, spearheaded a solution focusing on providing culturally relevant resources to educate young Black women about breast cancer risk factors, increase understanding of signs and symptoms, and connect them to vital resources, aiming to enhance risk awareness and encourage proactive health management. Unique for its culturally validated design, successful navigation through pharmaceutical compliance challenges and reach into a population that is often overlooked for screening despite having the highest incidence of breast cancer among women ages 25-45.

Winner: WillowTree 

Award: Trailblazing Techquity Innovation - a groundbreaking initiative that redefines healthcare through digital innovation on behalf of an underserved population

Submission Category: Digital health innovation 

Accepting: Sydnor Gammon, Partner & VP, Business Development - Health Sector Lead; Patrick Higgins, Partner & VP, Business Development - Data & AI Lead

Description & Rationale: Vocable AAC, developed by WillowTree, is a digital tool designed to aid nonverbal, paralyzed, and disabled individuals–such as those with MS, stroke, ALS, or spinal cord injuries– to communicate using head movements, offering a cost-effective alternative to expensive AAC devices. The project was inspired by a personal need when a WillowTree employee's partner was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome. Vocable transforms subtle head movements into speech communication, rather than using infrared eye movement tracking. Utilizing Apple's head-tracking technology, the team enhanced the system with robotics expertise to provide a stable and precise user experience, further integrating voice technology and AI, via ChatGPT, to enhance conversation flow. With the goal of keeping the product accessible to all, WillowTree ensured that Vocable would remain free, contrasting the high costs of traditional AAC devices and expanding access to communication tools. During the pandemic, Vocable was used with intubated COVID-19 patients in China and Italy. The app has a 4.5-star rating on the App Store and 10 releases since 2020. Awarded for its groundbreaking impact and potential for mobility challenged people.

Winner: Elevance Health 

Award: Data of Algorithmic Excellence - for exemplary use of health data, AI, and/or algorithms to influence health disparities or inequities

Submission Category: Health data initiative 

Accepting: Tracy I. Wang, MPH, Digital Solutions Director, Enterprise Data and Analytics, Carelon Digital Platforms

Description & Rationale: Using private and public member data, Elevance Health developed a data foundation and analytics tools integrating social determinants of health (SDoH) and clinical data for internal and external visibility into needs, disparities, outcomes and service alignment. Use of standard industry definitions and adoption of interoperability guidelines makes the information useful within the enterprise and by community members, with populations stratified by demographics and geography for targeted interventions. The team has been able to implement several programs, including a doula services initiative for expectant mothers and a home-visit program for families with pediatric asthma, directly impacting health outcomes and reducing healthcare costs. Additionally, the team has introduced three key tools—"Close to Home", "Project Whole Health", and "Project Informed"—which visualize SDoH data, compare health plan metrics, and prioritize vulnerable populations for outreach. This enterprise initiative was awarded for its exemplary integration of health data and commitment to making data visible and useful to internal and external stakeholders.

Winner: Backpack Healthcare 

Award: Most Promising (Domestic) - reserved for US initiatives that are still in process, this award recognizes the potential of an emerging project due to innovation, scalability, and/or the potential to address significant healthcare challenges

Submission Category: Digital health innovation 

Accepting: Hafeezah Muhammad, CEO & Founder

Description & Rationale: Backpack Healthcare (originally Youme Healthcare) aims to address the youth mental health crisis via accessible, inclusive, and comprehensive pediatric and family mental healthcare that focuses on underserved communities and Medicaid patients. The Hello Backpack app offers therapy, daily journaling, bibliotherapy and emergency resources and is designed to monitor and support children's mental wellness between sessions. Available 24/7 via web and phone, the app features asynchronous remote monitoring and resources in over 250 languages. AI enables sentiment analysis for real-time distress detection, a patient-therapist matching algorithm, and personalized patient treatment plans. The app emphasizes inclusivity and cultural sensitivity, offering resources for diverse patients. Its bibliotherapy feature includes narrative stories created by clinical and Emmy-Award Winning Creative Teams, aiming to educate and engage children and parents about mental health challenges in an accessible and relatable manner. Backpack was awarded for its comprehensive approach to behavioral health support and potential to address a critical health need among children and youth.

Winner: World Youth Heart Federation (WYHF) 

Award: Most Promising (International) - awarded to an ex-US initiative still in process, this award recognizes the potential of an emerging project due to innovation, scalability, and/or the potential to address significant healthcare challenges

Submission Category: Direct health intervention

Accepting: Priyansh Shah, Founder & President

Description & Rationale: The World Youth Heart Federation (WYHF) India, a charity led by people under age 35, is addressing India's escalating cardiovascular disease (CVD) crisis with a focus on early diagnosis, treatment, and outcomes among rural patients. The annual number of deaths from CVD in India rose from 2.26 million (1990) to 4.83 million (2016) and the prevalence of ischemic heart disease quadrupled in rural areas of India from 1970 to 2013. WYHF’s Project Cardiogram deploys ECG machines in Primary Health Centres (PHCs), trains healthcare workers in cardiovascular care, works with certified advocates to raise awareness, conducts community screenings for early detection, and integrates digital health and telemedicine. Initial assessments revealed a critical lack of ECG machines and trained personnel in PHCs. The project was awarded for its comprehensive and thoughtful planning and ambition.

Winner: National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC)

Award: Techquity Insights - awarded for significant learnings and/or impact

Submission Category: Health data initiative 

Accepting: Meg Meador, MPH, C-PHI, CPHQ, Director, Quality Improvement & Integration

Description & Rationale: This project targeted uncontrolled hypertension in Black and African American adults, populations which have experienced lower blood pressure control rates and higher prevalence of hypertension compared to White adults. Led by NACHC in collaboration with primary care associations, health center-controlled networks, and community health centers, this initiative seeks to improve hypertension treatment practices. It utilizes treatment intensification process measures to identify gaps, drive optimal prescribing practices and disseminate successful strategies broadly to contribute to the broader goal of advancing health equity. And, it focuses on introducing and promoting the use of combination therapy over monotherapy for hypertension management, a method proven to be more effective in controlling blood pressure and reducing cardiovascular risks.Through this initiative, NACHC aims to improve blood pressure control by at least 20% among African American adults with hypertension in participating health centers by July 2024, showcasing a targeted approach to enhancing patient outcomes. This project was awarded for both significant insights and impact.

Winner: Vision Loss Rehab Canada 

Award: Global Techquity Impact - recognizes a project outside the US that demonstrates effective use of technology to overcome geographical, cultural, or socioeconomic barriers for a population experiencing persistent health disparities.

Submission Category: Digital health innovation

Accepting: Josie McGee, Vice President, Healthcare Innovation 

Description & Rationale: Vision Loss Rehabilitation Canada's Eye Health Screening Initiative (EHSI) leverages AI technology and mobile screening units to provide accessible, efficient, and culturally sensitive diabetic retinopathy screenings in rural, remote, and indigenous communities, where the prevalence of diabetes and diabetic retinopathy are highest, and patients have lower access to primary care and extremely limited or no access to specialty care. The EHSI addresses critical barriers to eye care, including geographical isolation and cultural sensitivity, significantly reducing screening times and enabling immediate care referrals, thereby aiming to prevent vision loss among high-risk populations efficiently. This project trained local providers to use the AI-based EyeArt® AI Eye Screening System to make care accessible and reduce time from screening to treatment. 

Winner: Wai’anae Coast Comprehensive Health Center

Award: American Medical Association/HLTH Foundation Techquity in Action Award - for a project that exemplifies AMA's values of patient care, medical education, and health policy and which demonstrates an exceptional commitment to techquity

Submission Category: Digital health innovation 

Accepting: Michele Chrissy Kuahine, Director of Clinical and Patient Informatics

Description & Rationale: The initiative aimed to improve primary healthcare access in Waianae, Hawaii, focusing on helping elderly citizens, predominantly from an indigenous population and of low income, overcome digital literacy and internet access barriers. In addition to promoting broader health and community access and social connectedness, the project aimed to improve telehealth access during the COVID-19 pandemic. A wide range of stakeholders–including Digital Ready Hawaii, Hawaii Hope, Sun Global Broadband, and WCCHC, collaborated to provide digital devices and community WiFi and expand telehealth capabilities with culturally relevant digital literacy programs. In this initiative, collecting data on digital health initiative usage and effectiveness was key, informing future projects and aiming to establish a scalable model for enhancing healthcare access through digital innovation and community engagement.

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