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Digital Health Companies Look to Improve Access to Culturally Competent Care

December 8, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck
Ashlee Wisdom, co-founder and CEO of Health In Her Hue.

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the use of telehealth and now many digital health companies are seeking to revolutionize access to care for communities of color. 

“I saw all these different solutions popping up and wondered how I could fine tune these innovations to what Black women and women of color really need,” Ashlee Wisdom, co-Founder and CEO of Health in Her Hue, said during a phone call with The Well News.

Health in Her Hue is a digital platform which allows users to connect with culturally competent and sensitive health care providers who can assist with health information and content that centers on the patient’s lived experiences.

The idea for the platform started while Wisdom was pursuing her master’s degree in public health at New York University and she noticed poor health outcomes disproportionately impacted women of color.

Previous research shows that it is not uncommon for a doctor to dismiss the health concerns of a patient of color due to an implicit or explicit bias. 

Dismissing health concerns can result in Black patients being prescribed less medication than White patients, receiving lower quality care for cardiovascular disease or having the highest mortality rates for heart disease when compared to other ethnicities.

Wisdom said she began to connect the dots between her personal lived experience as a Black woman and the social context that impacted her health.

“We were having to navigate a health care system that was not designed for us,” said Wisdom. 

The next step for Wisdom was to create a platform to allow women of color to find providers that culturally align with their health care needs, as she said current digital tools like ZocDoc do not offer a way to search for providers by race or ethnicity. 

“A psychologist I know shared that she pays to be on Psychology Today, but the patients who are looking for her can’t find her,” said Wisdom. 

Wisdom continued to raise funds and built up a team of software engineers. In 2018, she successfully launched the first version of Health in Her Hue, a website where women could go to read articles by Black health care professionals, providers, and patients. 

In 2020, the site was updated to include a provider directory of six listed physicians providing culturally competent care, and Wisdom said trust and engagement from the community continued to flourish.

This May the company released an app of the product that now has 7,000 registered users, 1,000 of whom are culturally sensitive doctors, doulas, nurses and therapists. 

“We felt it was very important to not limit [the platform] to traditional practitioners. Given disparities and outcomes, we know that if an individual has access to midwives and doulas that outcomes are improved,” said Wisdom. 

“We don’t believe there is a ‘one and done’ training to deem [a provider] culturally competent, as a culturally sensitive provider is trying to stay aware of the issues,” continued Wisdom.

Although the app and website are currently accessible to providers and patients for free, Wisdom said that in the future they plan to charge a subscription fee for providers who would also have to pay to be listed on the platform. 

For consumers, the company is building out a membership model that would allow users to have access to more personalized content. 

A personalized membership might include features like recommendations from providers based on a user’s health history, consults with a provider on the platform, a virtual care squad on specific disease state and topics and peer support clinical expertise. 

Wisdom said the company has already started having conversations with commercial payers about providing coverage for services, and that she will also be working on having those conversations on coverage with the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. 

Still, whether insurers will provide coverage for services might depend on consumer demand for telehealth services and federal investments in equity. 

Wisdom said there is already momentum in Congress to address health disparities in infant deaths and improve data reporting on maternal mortality, through things like the ‘Momnibus’ bill to increase data collection and expand health care coverage for Black women who are three to four more timely likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than White women. 

Health and Human Services also recently provided $350 million in funds to increase access to doulas, expand home visiting services, and also improve data reporting on maternal mortality.

“Between the pandemic and social unrests and racial reckoning going on in this country, all these things converged, and the problem we were solving was a crime of the time we were living in,” said Wisdom. 

“We are starting to see some political will pushed behind these issues, and our congressional women and men rally around cultural competency and sensitivity to push these initiatives forward,” continued Wisdom. 

Other digital health companies like HUED, StartUp Health, Hurdle or MedHaul are joining the virtual effort to expand access to culturally competent care for women of color and reduce racial health disparities. 

“No one company will solve this big problem. We all need to tackle it from different avenues and different angles,” said Wisdom.

Alexa Hornbeck can be reached at alexa@thewellnews.com 

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