Wall Street Roundtable

Technology for the Underserved: Discussing Future Investments
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Wall Street Roundtable
Technology for the Underserved: Discussing Future Investments

 

The HHS IDEA Lab has been researching the lack of information technology solutions for poor, multicultural and other underserved communities for the past few months.  Our initial analysis taught us that a key barrier to innovation in this space is a lack (or perceived lack) of interest from private investors and foundations.  So we thought to ourselves, since we are a "Lab," why not test that assumption? So on December 3, 2014, the National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved (NHIT), in collaboration with the HHS IDEA Lab, convened a meeting in the Financial District of New York City.  Describing this unique meeting Luis Belen, CEO of the NHIT Collaborative, commented: "Collaboration across the private, public and community sectors is paramount in generating actionable solutions to the challenges our underserved communities face today.  This roundtable is the first of many opportunities for thought leaders to come together to advance our mutual goal of ending disparities leveraging health IT innovations."

Meeting attendees included representatives of private foundations, technology firms, non-profit organizations and financial institutions.  Our discussion centered on how to extend the benefits of information and communication technology to underserved communities.   We wanted to know:  "Are you interested in investing in this space?  If not, why?"

The group discussed a wide range of contributing factors.  Several mentioned the lack of meaningful involvement by the target populations or communities in the design process.  Rarely are the designers of products taking the initiative to consult directly with the underserved; to meet, product test, conduct focus groups, or deeply analyze the environment in which they seek to operate.  Several attendees highlighted the need to first understand the environment, and then design a solution – rather than the reverse (which is often the case).  One solution offered was to include community members in the actual business effort, ensuring that they can also benefit from their profits and success.  Another suggestion was to encourage more people with diverse backgrounds to join the tech industry and get training in coding, etc.

The consensus of the meeting attendees was that this IS an important opportunity for investment.  Therefore, the constraint does not appear to be a lack of interest by financial institutions, but rather a lack of a clear, proven business model.  This sentiment is echoed by the few businesses that are already in this space, they have also expressed concerns with their own models. 

The conclusion of the group was that a business plan or model competition or challenge should be held to help address the core issue of a lack of investment.  Attendees agreed to collaborate on a business plan or model challenge, aiming at addressing up to three health and related social or economic challenges.  The goal of the challenge is to develop and fund a best practice business design that can serve as a guiding example for future businesses in this space.  "This discussion and the resulting competition excite me because I have seen how new advances in information and communication technologies benefit the wide variety of Americans that our Department serves.  Now we want to go beyond just looking at electronic health records, to bring the energy of the tech industry to other health and well-being challenges benefiting all communities," said Bryan Sivak, the Chief Technology Officer at HHS.

 Our goal is to unveil the challenge at the NHIT Collaborative' s April 2015 Summit, along with an action plan based on recommendations made during their first annual conference in September 2014.

Author: HHS Idea Lab

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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and commenter alone, and do not represent an official position of the National Health IT Collaborative for the Underserved or its funders.