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Digital Health Through an Equity Lens: Part 2

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedFebruary 29, 2024

Welcome to the CEO Corner, where Buoy CEO and Cofounder Andrew Le, MD, sits down with industry leaders to chat about the provocative topics of healthcare today. Andrew recently spoke with Ashlee Wisdom, MPH, 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. They talk about centering patients’ lived experiences and building trust among those who have been marginalized and underserved in the healthcare system.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Andrew Le, MD: How does your public health background help with the challenges you're looking to solve for your consumers? More specifically, how do you think about social determinants of health at Health In Her HUE?

Ashlee Wisdom, MPH: I love that question. I'm constantly thinking about a patient’s social and cultural context as it relates to their ability to access care or digital health solutions. Having that in the background gives me a unique perspective on product design.

I'm thinking about accessibility. I get frustrated when people assume that if you build a product for Black women or women of color, they can't afford to pay. There are many Black women with means, but there are many who couldn’t afford a monthly subscription fee for a platform that offers premium health content. How do we make sure our product is accessible to everyone who wants to interact with it?

In terms of health equity, I tell my team, "We can't perpetuate the same problems we're trying to solve. How can we be thoughtful and intentional about equity?"

Andrew: How do you have those conversations? I’d like to hear about how your team thinks through the health equity for a new service or feature you're looking to build.

Image courtesy Draw Down Books.

Ashlee: I'm reading the book Design Justice by Sasha Costanza-Chock. The author notes that often, people design things for the broadest use—for people who can utilize it with ease, those who aren't disabled, people who have the means. Then, once it’s called out as not accessible, people try to reconfigure things on the back end.

We try to get ahead of that by acknowledging we're a startup with very limited resources. We can't solve for everything, but we can acknowledge what gaps exist. Sometimes those issues may have to sit in a parking lot, but we’re constantly thinking about, "What about this person who may not be able to engage with it in this way?"

It's uncomfortable because sometimes you identify problems you can't solve due to limited resources. But the awareness piece is still critical.

"We can't solve for everything, but we can acknowledge what gaps exist."

Ashlee Wisdom, MPH, CEO and Cofounder of Health in Her HUE

Andrew: That's a really nuanced answer. I see the tension between wanting to build for everyone and being resource-constrained. The exercise of calling out who you're looking to solve for and the things you may need to put in the parking lot is very valuable. Let’s switch gears a bit. What excites you about the future of digital health?

Ashlee: Three things jump out to me. I'm really excited about the boom in companies looking to solve problems that are unique to women's health. Women have been underserved for too long. Seeing companies focus on menopause and pre-menopause, I'm like, "Why didn't these things exist before?" It's great to see venture funding going towards women's health.

It's also been great to see emergent companies focusing on the BIPOC community, LGBTQ+ patients, patients who've traditionally been marginalized, overlooked and underserved by the healthcare system. Granted, that means more competition. But racism, bias and discrimination are such big problems in healthcare that they need to be blocked and tackled in many ways.

The third piece is community. I stumbled upon that as a core component to our platform because we're getting so much valuable information from women commenting on our social media content. I wanted to learn from them to inform our product roadmap.

They shared that they really value the community component of Health In Her HUE. Women are diagnosed with breast cancer, and they go in these Facebook groups, and they don't see other Black women, and it's a very isolating experience.

Community is a key aspect of the Health in Her HUE platform. Image courtesy of Instagram.

So having this community component to care is critical. I've been excited to see companies like Oath emerge. Peanut is a company that's focused on pregnancy and fertility that also has a strong community component. I'm excited to watch more digital health solutions see the value in community and how it improves health outcomes. Building a sense of community has often been seen as a method for driving engagement, but it also creates a lot of value for patients in a way that has traditionally been overlooked.

Health in Her HUE team members during the 2021 Team retreat. Image courtesy Health in Her HUE.

Andrew: That's a great point. Research shows that who you're around affects your health—and “around” could be physical or virtual. Ashlee, let’s do a fun question. I heard about the epic game nights you host. What makes them epic?

Ashlee: When we started the parties, I had a tiny apartment in Harlem. I got all my friends together, and we had food, drinks and interesting games. People looked forward to letting their hair down and stripping off the seriousness of work and life. My birthday is in the spring, and my friends say it’s the kickoff for the fun season of the year. We typically had game nights in the spring or Christmas time, but we've been missing out for the past couple of years with COVID.

Andrew: That's too bad. So, these games, are you talking about board games or charades?

5 Second Rule. Image courtesy PlayMonster.

Ashlee: There's one called 5-Second Rule Game, where you have a card and you have five seconds to list off the three things that are on the card. So it'll be like top three horror movies. And you have five seconds to name those. It sounds easy, but you'll name a movie and you're like, "That's not actually a horror movie." And once you have a couple of drinks, the things that slip out of people's mouths can be very interesting.

Andrew: Oh, that's fun. Ashlee, we’re getting the cue to wrap things up, like the music playing at the Oscars. I really appreciate your time. Your answers were so thoughtful.

Ashlee: Thank you. I really enjoyed the conversation.

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.