Microsoft and start-ups work to improve healthcare equity

Microsoft and start-ups work to improve healthcare equity

Despite the technology available, communities still struggle to access quality healthcare services 

Elly Yates-Roberts |

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted that the gaps in our delivery system have led to a lack of equality in healthcare.

It’s worth noting that equality is not the same as equity. As Evelyn Lewis, doctor of medicine and co-founder of Warrior Centric Health, pointed out in a recent meeting, equality is offering the same thing; equity is providing what is needed.   

According to a report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, entitled Paving the Road to Health Equity, the US Department of Health and Human Services defines health equity as “the attainment of the highest level of health for all people. Population-level factors, such as the physical, built, social and policy environments, can have a greater impact on health outcomes than individual-level factors. The root causes of health inequity can be directly linked to a failure to address these population-level factors, one community at a time. In addition, linkages between science, policy and practice are critical to achieving health equity.” 

We are now at an inflection point where what is needed to provide health equity is excruciatingly evident.  As noted in a recent blog post by David Rhew, chief medical officer at Microsoft, “there is an urgent need to extend essential services and offerings to those who are disadvantaged due to socio-economic factors, racial injustice, advanced age and other differentiators that are biological or societal in nature. Microsoft is working closely with our customers, public health teams, and partners across the globe to achieve more for the communities they serve” 

Microsoft is also helping early-stage companies affect positive change for underserved communities, expanding access to quality healthcare services, providing what is needed not just what is equal. Here are some companies doing pioneering work in the space. 

Healthcare access remains a prevailing problem for people of colour. In fact, black and Latin American people experience 30 to 40 per cent poorer health outcomes than their white counterparts. Research shows that people of colour are not getting the health and medical care they need because of fear, access to quality healthcare, distrust of doctors and because their symptoms and pains are often dismissed. 

HUED is a platform committed to eliminating health disparities and improving overall patient outcomes for black, Latin American, and indigenous people. How do they do it? By designing equity-based education, enabling access to culturally sensitive healthcare providers, and empowering patients to make data-informed decisions about their healthcare. 

HUED’s e-learning platform provides education regarding health disparities that impact black, Latin American, and indigenous patients with the goal of improving patient care, patient satisfaction and clinical outcomes. 

These certified providers have the option to communicate with HUED‘s patient population through a web application directory and patients are able to find certified medical professionals that specifically understand their cultural, physical and mental needs. 

Warrior Centric Health
Another organisation that is using training to improve health equity is Warrior Centric Health (WHC). WCH trains providers in how to care for US military veterans, reservists, National Guard, and their families more effectively. Contrary to popular belief, more than 90 per cent of these service and family members get the majority of their healthcare outside of the Department of Veteran Affairs and military health system. However, commercial healthcare providers are often unprepared to treat members of the military because they don’t know about the patient’s service background. In fact, most don’t even ask patients if they have served.  This leads to less-than-optimal care for the warriors and their families, as the armed forces are exempt during deployment and training from traditional safety regulations, established by the US Office of Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).  It’s not unusual for members of the military to have unique physical, psychological and emotional stresses not typically experienced by civilians. This results in a population with higher-than-average propensity for many chronic conditions. 

WCH is on a mission to provide exactly what the warrior community needs by offering fully accredited education and training to enable providers and staff to deliver clinically and culturally competent care. This learning management system, WCH Education & Training, is augmented by their data analytics platform which identifies, assesses and tracks population health data for the warrior community, and an outreach programme that helps attract more valuable Warrior Community members to authorised facilities. 

Sonavi Labs
Sonavi Labs is on a mission to use advanced technology to listen to sounds in the body to detect and manage respiratory diseases and infections. Through the smart application of augmented auscultation, Sonavi Labs creates medical devices and software rooted in artificial intelligence and is driven by a commitment to save lives by making accessible, user-friendly assessment tools that can be used by clinicians of all skill levels as well as patients anywhere.  

Feelix, developed by Sonavi Labs, is the world’s first digital stethoscope designed for clinicians and patients that employs proprietary classification algorithms to detect and grade the severity of abnormalities in lung and body sounds. Feelix delivers high-fidelity remote monitoring supported by integrated apps and a secured, HIPAA-compliant cloud system, while being designed to be affordable, user friendly and accessible.   

The FDA-approved device has certain features that help democratise the diagnosis of respiratory ailments like pneumonia. For example, a field health worker in a remote area can use the device as the algorithms function without a direct connection to the internet. There is on-device storage to retain the readings, which can then be transmitted once a connection is re-established. The extended battery life of the device ensures that the health worker can complete multiple exams for numerous patients over a longer period of time. 

While the models are undergoing regulatory approval, the vision is to replace wet diagnostics and expensive x-ray confirmations with this lower cost, easier to use alternative so that treatments can start sooner, no matter where the patient is located. 

Start-ups like these are helping to improve healthcare equity for all.  

Find out more about how Microsoft is involved at: 

Sally Frank is worldwide lead for health and life sciences at Microsoft for Startups 

This article was originally published in the Winter 21/22 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription.

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