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Buoy’s Active Allyship: Building a product for all

Written by Jen Wong , Director of Product Design

PublishedMay 6, 2021

Healthcare is extremely complicated and confusing, yet the average person is expected to navigate the system with confidence if they want to make important decisions about their health.  To help change this, we at Buoy have committed to making healthcare more accessible for everyone. It starts with awareness of these issues, and awareness of our own individual biases. Only once we recognize biases in ourselves can we begin to undo them in the products we build.

Ensuring accessibility within our product is a standard part of our operating procedures at Buoy. In order to build a diverse and inclusive product, our product development teams ensure we:

1. Remain vigilant when it comes to biased information feeding our artificial intelligence system

and

2. Approach product development with an “access for all” mentality.

Let’s double-click on both of these:

1. Biased information

Buoy’s operating system is based on artificial intelligence that relies on vast amounts of data to draw conclusions. That said, it is no secret, the data which we base our AI systems on in healthcare is inherently biased. For example, we know that historically, clinical research and literature can be biased from lack of diverse participants. From a clinical standpoint, we try to mitigate this at Buoy by prioritizing the use of systematic reviews and meta analysis that aggregate multiple studies with the hopes of having such a large participant pool that bias is less likely. But, unfortunately, that information isn’t always available.

There was a terrific piece in the New York Times, “Who Is Making Sure the A.I. Machines Aren’t Racist?,” which puts the onus on engineers to choose the "right" data when training these mathematical systems. In the case of Buoy, the onus is on our clinicians, data scientists and engineers, who work together to create the underlying system powering Buoy. Their priority is to ensure the systems we're learning from are free of the biases often found in the medical system. It’s worth noting that, in addition to AI's bias in healthcare, the humans pioneering this work often hold their own implicit and unconscious biases that might influence how the systems are built and who they serve. Buoy has committed to instituting an internal review process to keep ourselves in check with this. There's no doubt this is, and will continue to be, a major uphill battle the entire healthcare industry will face - but if we each put in the effort to actively chip the bias away, we can only get closer to better healthcare for everyone.

Unfortunately, bias is everywhere. The no-touch soap dispenser above works for lighter-skinned hands, but not darker ones. A problem that would have been avoided, if it had been tested on a variety of skin tones earlier on.

2. Access for all

We want people who use Buoy to feel like the experience is made just for them, i.e. their needs were considered before, during and after developing the product. We know that “inclusive design is the practice of designing products that are accessible and usable by as many people as possible.” So that’s what we’ve set out to do. Designing inclusive products requires us to consider all different experiences and perspectives, not just what the general public perceives to be “mainstream” (heterosexual, cisgender, male, white, able-bodied, etc). Buoy is committed to accessibility for all. Individuals with disabilities (vision, hearing, cognitive, mobility) are included and considered in the product design & development process. Everyone who uses Buoy should be able to have the same experiences. Check out our page on accessibility for more details here and a recent case study we did with accessibility testing platform Fable talking about our proactive approach to improving accessibility. We also take pride in assembling diverse product teams at Buoy. The more perspectives that go into key development conversations, the closer we are to fulfilling our commitment to healthcare equality.


We still have a great deal of work to do. But by having these conversations, and bringing these issues to light, we can ensure our products at Buoy are serving everyone equally while actively working towards a world in which healthcare is accessible for all.

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Buoy Human Resources team
Email: people@buoyhealth.com