Global investment in digital news block reached a record of $57.2 billion in 2021, according to BC Perspectives. Yet the healthcare industry is a long way from seeing a significant return on that investment in the form of sustained cost reductions or improved outcomes.
A big reason for this could be due to the fact that low-income patient populations facing disproportionately worse news block outcomes than their higher-income counterparts are also the most likely to encounter barriers to news block technology use. That’s what Courtney Lyles, co-founder of SOLVE Health Technologythe University of California San Francisco news block equity accelerator, she believes, and is determined to change that.
There are plenty of reasons news block tech can be inaccessible to low-income patients, according to Lyles. For example, a startup may only offer services in English or struggle with misconceptions about the market opportunity to serve Medicaid populations. In other cases, companies may not know how to get there low-income patients. To help the latter category of startups, Lyles co-founded SOLVE Health Tech in 2019 with UCSF Physician Dr. Urmimala Sarkar.
“We’re close to Silicon Valley, so a lot of digital news block companies would come ad hoc to learn more about patient populations,” Lyles said. “In 2019 we systematized all those arrangements and projects, deciding that it would be much more efficient for us to work with companies in parallel and try to be more propulsive.”
Some accelerators take equity stakes in the startups they work with, but Lyles said that would be “really challenging” given that UCSF is a public entity. Instead, SOLVE Health Tech seeks collaborative research projects with companies that span 12-18 months and focus on better tailoring news block technology to the needs of low-income patients. The accelerator, funded through the university, is made up of clinical and research staff spanning a variety of backgrounds.
The three companies with which the accelerator has worked so far are applied VR, InquisitHealth other Doctor of Somnology. All three companies have published at least one research paper with SOLVE Health Tech, and the accelerator hopes to publish “one, if not two, more papers” for each of these companies in the coming months, according to Lyles.
Each company came to the accelerator with different needs. For example, AppliedVR, a virtual reality platform designed to reduce the amount of opioids patients need to control their pain, approached SOLVE Health Tech after establishing a strong foundation of commercially insured patients. The company sought the accelerator’s help because it realized that chronic pain was a big problem among Medicaid populations and had not focused on testing its product for that population.
When the accelerator put headsets on UCSF Medicaid-covered patients, more than 95% of them had never touched a virtual reality platform in their lives. Getting their feedback on the technology, AppliedVR helped reshape its platform, and the startup also spoke with clinical leaders at UCSF about what it would take for providers to think of VR as an acceptable treatment service within your arsenal for chronic pain management.
The investigation looked different for InquisitHealth. The startup’s peer-to-peer mentoring-as-a-service solution seeks to address the social determinants of news block by matching patients with a disease coach based on shared conditions, age, language, medication types, demographics, and comorbidities. When the company came to SOLVE Health Tech, it had collected a large amount of clinical data on its patients, but was unsure how it could use that data to further develop its platform.
InquisitHealth collaborated with accelerator researchers to better understand what was working and what could be improved to better reach Medicaid populations, allowing them to quickly understand their data and move on to the product redesign process.
In the years to come, Lyles expects the accelerator to continue research with additional startups. She also believes there is room to bring more stakeholders into the program, such as payers and investors, so they can all work together to improve news block technology’s ability to reach low-income patients.
SOLVE Health Tech stands for “Overcoming Obstacles for Low-Income Patients and Vulnerabilities Every Day Through Health Tech.” People would probably agree that if the accelerator really achieves its mission of helping digital news block companies better serve low-income patients, it can be forgiven its clunky name.
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