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Quality health care: We’re building a better app for that | READER COMMENTARY

Smartphone apps and connected devices are likely to see a significant growth as online and remote consultations with doctors during the COVID-19 pandemic become more routine. File. (Handout/Tribune News Service).
Smartphone apps and connected devices are likely to see a significant growth as online and remote consultations with doctors during the COVID-19 pandemic become more routine. File. (Handout/Tribune News Service). (Dreamstime/Dreamstime/TNS)

Digital health funding in 2021 has shattered records with over $20 billion invested in startups, according to Rock Health’s venture capital report. While it is heartening to see increased investment in historically-neglected areas such as mental health, female-funded startups and health equity challenges, there remains a fundamental paradox. Out of thousands of digital disrupters embraced by Silicon Valley, getting broad adoption and reimbursement in health care remain challenging.

Why? Health care providers are interested in validated outcomes (How can this app help make my patients healthier?) and identifying effective digital solutions they can “prescribe” to their patients. Similarly, insurers are interested in outcomes and cost reduction to justify reimbursement for new tech. Who will create solutions that emerge as clinical standards, and who will pay for them? It is imperative that entrepreneurs work closely with both providers and insurers to figure out complex challenges around implementation and integration with current systems. Paradigm shifts in health care innovation require a multi-stakeholder approach grounded in collaboration.

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That change maker could be happening right here in Maryland in the form of 1501 Health, a unique payer-provider partnership between LifeBridge Health and Healthworx, the innovation and investment arm of CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield. The 1501 Health incubator offers entrepreneurs valuable “payvider” insight to accelerate their growth. We have already seen how this “payvider’ model can work, as the five companies in 1501 Health’s inaugural class are already benefiting from access to mentors, funding and overall guidance to navigate the complex health care ecosystem.

One example is Live Chair Health, originally a scheduling app used by thousands of barbershop patrons in nearly 30 states. Understanding the special relationships between African-American barbers and their clients, this startup had the idea to train barbers to be health advocates for their clients. Live Chair Health partnered with LifeBridge Health to build on its program working with local barbers to screen for high blood pressure, BMI (body mass index), and other risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Together, we expanded this innovative health screening initiative to 60 Baltimore-area barbershops and salons, completed 500 health risk assessments and found 100 Live Chair clients indicating a need for a primary care physician.

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We also provided COVID-19 support in the form of PPE screening tools, education and resources for barbershop clients and offered COVID vaccines through our LifeBridge Health Community Mobile Clinic program. As we develop solutions that could benefit people across the country, 1501 Health could also stimulate the local economy, bringing six to eight startups to Baltimore each year, adding both jobs and investment. We are eager to partner together with startups to bridge the development divide, building on the record interest in digital health solutions to create real and sustainable solutions for our patients and our communities.

Pothik Chatterjee, Baltimore

The writer is assistant vice president of innovation for LifeBridge Health.

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