Providing digital health for everyone

When they hear the term "digital health," many people may only think about expensive devices and services, like Fitbits. While clinics and insurers are using health analytics to improve the patient experience, there are still many with no health insurance who can't afford decent health care. A recent California Health Care Foundation report indicated that most digital health tools are not initially made to serve the low-income population, despite the fact that these individuals often need these tools the most. 

Yet a number of investors and entrepreneurs are working to change that by developing digital health tools that can help everyone – not just the wealthy. 

'Do well and do good'
Not only can digital health companies help a large group of people who need it, but they can also grow their businesses. In the same way that Wal-Mart profits from selling low-priced goods, digital health companies can make money from selling products based on scale. As Janet Sarasohn-Kahn, author of the California Health Care Foundation report, told California Healthline, "If you can have impact [on many people], inexpensively, you can make a lot of money. If we get it right, we can do well and do good." 

"Digital health companies can help a large group of people who need it."

Text4Baby, for instance, is a free service for low-income pregnant women and new mothers who don't have access to proper health care. The messaging service is set to the baby's due date, and provides tips on prenatal care, early development, immunization and other important child-care topics. Available in English and Spanish, Text4Baby has had close to a million users since 2010. 

Learn about the patient
Digital health is all about using technology to improve the patient experience, and there are a number of ways that healthcare product design can better provide for underserved populations, according to Sarasohn-Kahn's report:

  • Learn more about the patient, and don't make assumptions based on education, language or internet access. For instance, according to the CHCF report, 8 out of 10 low-income individuals use text messaging, so this can be an effective means of sharing health data. 
  • Integrate treatments with the patient's everyday life and social determinants. For example, consider that a working parent may not have time to walk extra steps each day.  
  • Connect with the local community to develop trust with the underserved population, because many of these individuals may not be trusting of traditional social support systems. 
  • Move from fee-for-service to value-based care, a trend that is happening in many areas of health care. 

When designing home medical products, digital health companies that consider the larger population will be able to connect with a major market that has a need for their products. 

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