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Rock Health Summit 2020: Making Health Tech Work for Everyone

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This year’s Rock Health summit went the way most of our lives do these days–virtually. But that didn’t mean its impact was lessened. As the world’s first venture fund dedicated to virtual health, Rock Health has always highlighted innovation in the healthcare industry. The 9th annual summit, which occurred on September 22nd-23rd, featured new research and speakers covering all things health technology.

Not only was the summit logistically affected by COVID-19, but the main content was more impacted by the ongoing crisis of inequality. 

As Highwire wrote about in June, racism is a public health crisis, negatively impacting the healthcare racial and ethnic minorities receive. For example, Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women are two to three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes compared to white women. These disparities affect all aspects of our healthcare systems and though digital health technology works to disrupt those systems, the industry admits that, on the whole, it has not done to address the needs of a diverse group of patients. 

Panels at the summit discussed how healthcare solutions have failed to be inclusive and what’s the best way to move forward and address these issues. After this summit, it’s clear the future of healthcare is in providing individualized healthcare to a diverse group of patients.

Read on to see how leading healthcare innovators are tacking diversity and inclusion. 

The healthcare of the future needs to work for all

As digital health technology continues to expand, professionals need to focus on making the future of healthcare work for all, particularly in light of protests over Black Lives Matter and a national reckoning of injustice. Dr. Mandy Cohen, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, speaking at a panel said, “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.”

Instead of focusing on a blanket group of consumers, companies should identify the specialized needs of different groups. What a largely white, upper-middle-class, Silicon Valley-based creator needs in their healthcare is likely not the same as patients in the Deep South or for Black women. Dr. Cohen emphasized that 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.”

Importance of language

Language is another way marginalized groups like the LGBTQ+ community continue to be excluded. A.G Breitenstein, founder and CEO of Folx Health said, “It’s really about unpacking that and understanding when you are serving populations that don’t fit a white, straight, heteronormative, cis-gender frame, then you are really starting to rip apart some of the true guts of the system and build it in a way that is reflective of people’s values, their desires, their understandings, the way they think about themselves and their bodies.” For example, Poppy Seed Health spells woman as “womxn” and uses the term “birthing people” for expectant patients, allowing non-binary and trans patients to feel comfortable receiving care.

Language is a hot topic in maternity care, as many commonly used terms have painful implications. Medically, a miscarriage is called a “spontaneous abortion.” The word abortion implies a choice that mothers who suffered miscarriages did not get to makes. Halle Tecco, CEO of Natalist, is working to combat “decades and decades of language that has been developed by white men in the industry who have been dominating women’s health for too long, and trying to just undo these terrible word choices.” 

Interested in learning more about the conference? Want to connect with Highwire to discuss our work in the digital health and health space or interested to learn more about what our clients think about some of these trending topics? Contact healthcare@highwirepr.com.