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Advancing healthcare: Equity in healthcare is possible with technology

Illustrated by James Wan

Dr. Norman Beauchamp first witnessed disparities in healthcare as a child. He grew up on a farm near Michigan State University, and his mother was a mental health worker in downtown Lansing. Through her he learned how many people needed care and simply did not receive it. When he was in medical school, he told her he’d come back one day and he’d do something about it, and he’s now her vice president of health sciences at MSU.

“The county you’re born in doesn’t determine how long you live, in Michigan it does,” he says.

He says there are many barriers to getting care for everyone. In some places like downtown, high speed internet access is a problem. In other areas, such as rural areas, the simple fact is that the nearest doctor or specialist is two hours away from her. Some people don’t know that they can or should attend a health check-up. And the fact that barriers are so widespread is a barrier in itself. How does he determine what works in Escanaba and Detroit?

But these are solvable problems, he says. The healthcare industry needs to catch up.

“Almost every other sector has seen innovation, improved business capabilities, [health care] It becomes more affordable and more patient- or customer-centric,” he says.

The answer, or most of the answer, is innovation, he says. New (or kind of new) technologies are being used in healthcare, such as telemedicine, artificial intelligence, wearable tech, and 3D printing, but not all are standard. Beauchamp is one of many medical practitioners who think it’s time for a technological revolution in medicine. Something easier, and perhaps cheaper, for everyone, especially for those who were previously unaffordable or difficult to treat.

But the biggest barrier right now may be the industry itself.

“In healthcare, technology is driving up costs and increasing inequality,” he says. As an example, he offers his PET/CT scanner, which uses a small amount of radioactive material. This can accurately detect certain types of cancer and show them to your doctor.

“It’s incredible technology. And what you’ve done is that you’ve delivered something incredible, yet not everyone has access to it, which widens the divide,” he says.

But it doesn’t have to be. Beauchamp believes Michigan can lead the nation in using technology to overcome these barriers and save more lives than ever before.

medical care through the screen

Marie Lee was doing telemedicine before it was cool. Early in her career, she would never have thought she would work in healthcare. Because what does a background in telecommunications have to do with medicine?

After all, there are many.

She is currently Manager of Access Care Technologies at Henry Ford Hospital. This hospital started in 2015 as her one department. She joined in her 2017 when she started growing. of meaning.

“It’s really interesting because I was generally involved in various conferences and conversations about telemedicine being this great tool for rural health before COVID. In a challenging urban area.It doesn’t matter if you’re 50 miles from the doctor’s office or 5 miles from the doctor’s office.If you don’t have reliable transportation, it could be 50 or 500 miles.” she says.

But before the pandemic, the idea wasn’t very popular. Both doctors and patients resisted.

“When I first joined, my responsibility was basically to ask people to use telemedicine. We were like, ‘Look at this amazing thing you can do for your patients,'” Lee says.

It wasn’t just doctors who were hesitant. Much of the resistance to telemedicine (where doctors and patients interact by phone or video call instead of meeting in person) has come from insurance companies.

“They weren’t reimbursing telemedicine,” she said, referring specifically to Medicaid. “Commercial insurers are following the lead of the federal insurers.”

Of course, COVID-19 changed all that. Medicaid has had to make significant changes to how telemedicine is covered. After two years of lockdowns and restricted access to medical facilities, telemedicine has become the norm…and in some ways, a positive for payers as well as patients.

“We’re showing the benefits. We don’t have the large-scale fraud that payers feared,” says Lee. “So we are lobbying to stay in that location.”

Robin Wright King is Director of Consumer Health and Engagement Strategy for Blue Cross Blue Shield in Massachusetts and previously worked for BCBS in Michigan. She said one of her reasons insurance companies were hesitant to reimburse for telemedicine before the pandemic was because employers didn’t think employees wanted it. “But I think we all learned something [during the pandemic] —Telemedicine is a very valuable tool. ”

Now, according to Lee, it’s not too difficult to convince doctors to use technology, especially with regular visits such as post-operative base touches and answers to basic questions.

“For the most part, I think they are open to the idea that care can be provided remotely, and quality care can be provided remotely,” she says.

Investing in innovation

It’s not just big institutions looking to the future. Virtual care and new technologies are helping to unlock entrepreneurship among product developers and even physicians.

Dr. Ali Bazzi is a Business Partner of Robin Wright King. Together they started a company called Urban Docz, a virtual care office dedicated to helping young women with sexual and reproductive problems.

Urban Docz is one of eight startups selected by XLerateHealth, a nonprofit healthcare accelerator based in Louisville, Kentucky, to be part of the 2022 Flint cohort.

Bazzi is based in Detroit and runs an OB-GYN residency. He has noticed that many young women without insurance need affordable access to basic reproductive medicine, he says. While women often have to come to the hospital (“You can’t have a baby if you’re not there,” he says), he also noted that some women come to the hospital and ask questions. He said he should have answered. phone.

“They will come in for the simplest things, like heartburn or labor,” Bazzi says. “And you have to understand that when patients don’t have health insurance, they have to see a doctor. Many of these complaints could have been answered virtually … which eased the strain on emergency resources,” he says.

Honor First is another Detroit-based company that uses telemedicine as a way to connect people with limited access to medical services. After witnessing an increase in shootings and violence in rural communities, its founders say they felt a need to connect more people to mental health services.

Using telemedicine, they connect therapists and patients, but overcome another
Barriers that may be inherent in sparsely populated communities. In a world that still stigmatizes mental health, who wants to sit in the waiting room of a small town?

Honor First CEO Dr. Jaschon Proctor said: “They would rather meet them online than in the office.”

reach where the patient is

Not all doctors have embraced telemedicine, says Lee — some still just want to see their patients in person — but COVID has shown what telemedicine can do, At this point, there really seems to be no going back. She admits that virtual or remote care isn’t a perfect alternative. Sometimes she just needs to go to the doctor. Some tests require physical contact. Surgery cannot be done over the phone.

However, advances in technology are reducing the need for some visits to a doctor. One example is her TytoCare, which makes at-home testing kits available at Best Buy that allow doctors to virtually observe a patient’s ears, nose, and throat, or listen to heart sounds. is listed. Usually done in-house.

Another example of technology that breaks barriers to access, Beauchamp points to, comes from healthcare company Higi, which MSU will partner with in 2021. Among other initiatives, Higi and his MSU have partnered with Dollar General to install self-service Health His kiosks in several stores. — Stores often found in rural areas with low access to healthcare. Kiosks allow customers to check their blood pressure. BMI; risk factors for type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke. If there are indicators of danger, users can contact medical professionals at the kiosk.

“Again, it’s ‘Where are the people who need health and how do we lower the barriers?’, right?” Beecham says. “Everyone has to go shopping. Having a way to connect at a kiosk to ask medical questions, seek advice, and provide those answers has already lowered one barrier for him. increase.”


Such inventions are the kind that Beauchamp hopes will continue to grow. That’s the goal of the MSU Grand Rapids Innovation Park, bringing together public university researchers and private healthcare industry partners under the same roof.

According to Beauchamp, it typically takes 15 years to develop a product, go through all the necessary steps, and bring it to market. As far as he is concerned, it is too long.

Jerry Kooiman is Associate Dean for External Relations at the MSU College of Human Medicine at Grand Rapids Innovation Park, where Beauchamp’s vision comes to life.

“Whether it’s a product or device, a drug, a process, or an app related to improving healthcare and healthcare outcomes, how can we bring it to market faster?” Kooiman said. , talks about the problem they are trying to solve.

“Faculty members may be good at discovery, but they are not entrepreneurs,” he says. That’s why MSU works with partners in the healthcare industry who recognize the need and marketability of what researchers are developing and can work with them to bring it to life.

For example, if researchers in a lab develop an app to help patients monitor their blood pressure, it can be a long process before the technology is available to patients. If FDA approval is required, it will take longer. But companies that specialize in apps are familiar with each of the hoops they need to jump through to bring an app to market, and licensing their products gives partners that release that app much faster. can become

“they [industry partners] We can bring it across the startup Death Valley much faster than faculty and universities can do it,” says Kooiman. “Universities are still winning because the funding is coming back to both researchers and universities in terms of licensing deals. [and] Potential royalties, depending on how the contract is set up. And industry partners have new products and devices, so this is a win. ”

A similar innovation park, or “health science center,” as Kooiman calls it, will be built in Detroit over the next few years. In 2021, MSU announced his 30-year contract to build the center with Henry Ford Health, though many of the exact details (such as where it will be built and what kind of research it will focus on) are yet to be determined. Is not …

So the center itself is very similar to the rest of healthcare and technology.

This story is from the “Moving Medicine Forward” feature in the October issue. Hour Detroit Magazine 2022See the digital version for details.