Digital Health Through an Equity Lens: Part 1
PublishedJanuary 28, 2022
Andrew Le, MD: Thanks for joining us, Ashlee. Can you tell our audience a bit about yourself?
Ashlee Wisdom, MPH: Sure. I’m a first-generation American. My parents are Jamaican. I was born in The Bahamas and moved to the United States when I was eight months old. I grew up in the Bronx. I love New York City and still live here.
I went to Howard University in D.C. for undergrad. I was pre-med and planned to become a child psychiatrist. But volunteering for a nonprofit while I was an undergrad exposed me to the world of public health, and I became much more interested in that.
My first job out of undergrad was with a federally qualified health center. That experience opened my eyes to the inequities in the US healthcare system and helped me realize the need for safety net organizations like community health centers.
I got my Master's in Public Health with a concentration in healthcare policy and management from New York University while working full-time for an academic medical center in New York.
I started building Health In Her HUE because of my personal frustrations navigating and working within the healthcare system, and seeing how it's not designed to best serve patients that look like me. I’m passionate about applying an equity lens to healthcare and healthcare innovation.
Ashlee Wisdom, MPH (right) and Health in Her Hue Cofounder and CPO Eddwina Bright, MBA (left). Source: Far from Coy Photography (David S. Coy II) Paid in Gold Media (Joshua Peters) via Bloomberg.
Andrew: Awesome. Did you expect to become a startup founder? What has surprised you most in your journey?
Ashlee: I absolutely did not plan to be a startup founder. I wanted a safe, cozy job. But I'm not surprised I found my way in this world because I've always been a creative. Writing is my typical creative outlet. I didn't think it would translate into building a business. But it's always been in my nature to see a problem, be frustrated by it, and write and ideate about solutions.
One thing that’s surprised me is how much I enjoy wearing different hats as a Cofounder and CEO. I’m going from a sales meeting to product meetings to talking about communication strategy. It's sometimes chaotic, but I'm enjoying this early stage of building a startup.
"...it's always been in my nature to see a problem, be frustrated by it, and write and ideate about solutions."
Andrew: That's awesome. Couldn't agree more on the hat changing. Tell us about Health In Her HUE. Who are you looking to help? What value are you bringing?
Ashlee: We have a native app in the Apple App and Google Play Stores. I like to say the app offers the three C's: connections to providers through our provider directory, health content that is evidence-based and culturally attuned, and community.
Women of color often feel isolated in their healthcare experiences and diagnoses. We offer a community so they can connect with other women who are navigating similar health journeys and interact with providers through the community forum.
Now, we’re moving away from the app experience to a web experience that will be optimized for mobile devices. This experience will offer additional features, like consultations with culturally sensitive providers.
We’re really providing a tailored, personalized experience in the next phase of our product. We recently launched Virtual Care Squads, which is an extension of our community. These peer support groups focus on a specific disease state or healthcare journey. Women connect in virtual live sessions with a Health in Her Hue facilitator. They interact with a curriculum designed by a physician.
These Virtual Care Squads provide peer support, so women can connect with others who are dealing with similar things and find evidence-based health information to support them on those journeys. We're moving into direct care service provision, as opposed to just connecting patients to providers, in this next phase.
Health in Her Hue works to reduce racial health disparities by leveraging the power of technology, media and community to improve health outcomes for Black women and women of color, bringing awareness to health and wellness issues in a relevant, engaging and accessible way. Source: Health in Her Hue.
Andrew: Wow. That's really cool. When we think about the historic shortcomings of our healthcare system for women of color, how are you building trust between providers and consumers?
Ashlee: That's an important question. It keeps me up at night because trust is so difficult to build. I think we've done a great job of fostering trust to date, but it's easy to mess that up.
One thing we've been doing to build trust with Black women and women of color is saying, out of the gate, that we recognize the historical, and sometimes contemporary, harms the current healthcare system has played a role in. We’re naming that and acknowledging the concerns, trepidation and lack of trust that they may have.
And then we’re positioning Health In Her HUE as supporting women with navigating the system. We’re not a panacea, but we’re a voice for Black women and women of color. We can share best practices so the broader healthcare system can better serve these women.
The other thing is centering Black women's and women of color's lived experiences in our content and everything we do. Women have shared that it's been refreshing to see us talk about the stress that comes with discrimination in the workplace, and how that impacts health outcomes, or the stress of being the only high earner in your family.
In centering Black women's lived experiences, they feel seen and heard. That's the number-one way we've been able to foster trust with women. And we've been largely doing that through our content.
"...we recognize the historical, and sometimes contemporary, harms the current healthcare system has played a role in (negatively affecting women of color)."
Andrew: That's great. And what format is the content?
Ashlee: We offer articles and video content. We're aiming for video quality like that of Peloton or MasterClass—quality content that consumers actually want to engage and interact with.
Andrew: That's fantastic. Are you tackling any misconceptions or misinformation around the idea of culturally competent care?
Ashlee: Absolutely. The phrase “culturally competent care” can also be controversial, especially in public health. The big misconception is that you can do a “one and done” training and that's it, you’re now a culturally competent provider.
Even though we plan to offer CME-accredited trainings in our platform for providers, we're not framing that as, “Once you watch this video or read this article, you're now a culturally competent provider.” It's an ongoing process. Providers should continually try to educate themselves on providing more inclusive, culturally sensitive care.
The second misconception is that culturally competent care is focused on racial and ethnic minorities. All patients have intersecting identities that require inclusive and sensitive care. Cultural competency shouldn't just be something that Black patients or Latinx patients need. Every patient needs a culturally competent provider.
In Part 2 of the conversation, Ashlee talks about how her public health background provides a unique perspective on product design—and the role of community in digital health solutions.
About the participants:
Ashlee Wisdom, MPH is Cofounder and CEO of Health In Her HUE, a digital platform connecting Black women and women of color to culturally competent healthcare providers, health content and community
Andrew Le, MD, is the CEO and Cofounder of Buoy Health.