When Janna Guinen joined the brand new HLTH Foundation as executive director at the start of 2020, she was looking forward to building a strategy to help carry out the mission of HLTH – transforming the next decade of health. Interpreting this mission through the lens of the foundation, she established a more focused endeavor: promoting equity, inclusion and opportunity in healthcare on behalf of patients, healthcare professionals and health tech entrepreneurs.
“Our focus is to make sure we’re providing very real, practical opportunities to level the playing field where they don’t currently exist,” Guinen said. “Health equity is a goal that relies on directly improving healthcare access and care delivery for marginalized people, but is also influenced by equitable representation and inclusion of minoritized founders and other healthcare professionals,” said Guinen. “So, we are aiming at three major areas of influence.”
The first initiative she undertook is CSweetener, the HLTH Foundation’s mentorship program, which it acquired at about the same time as Guinen was hired. The program exclusively supported women, but now provides women and non-binary people with a year of virtual mentorship at no charge. In addition to gender, criteria for eligibility include a mix of more than 10 years in the industry and/or holding a role of director or above.
Mentorships are funded by corporate sponsors or through scholarships from the HLTH Foundation. To date, the initiative’s 200+ mentors have worked with more than 600 mentees.
“CSweetener’s strategy is simple: Help mentees reach the top of their fields and expand their networks, which advances the goal of gender equity and intersectionality in the industry.”
Guinen noted that CSweetener needed to be formalized and structured to meet its goals – for example, collecting demographic data of mentors and mentees to understand whether or not the program is serving people equitably. Looking ahead, the foundation is working to add more corporate sponsors to support CSweetener.
“Just a couple months after I joined the Foundation, the pandemic and nationwide protests over the murder of George Floyd lent a new urgency to the work of the HLTH Foundation, both on behalf of patients and also for healthcare professionals struggling to meet the demands of patient care in a system that was ill-prepared for Covid,” she said.
That’s when the Foundation created two Impact Programs that are presented yearly at HLTH: The Health Equity and Women at HLTH programs. In 2020, these programs were limited to a content agenda, but since that time, the HLTH Foundation’s Impact Programs have expanded to include a Patients at HLTH program as well as a Techquity Impact Program that it hosts at ViVE.
Techquity is focused on integrating health equity considerations into technology and data practices in order to reduce outcomes disparities and systemic inequities.
“Once our events returned to in-person in 2021, we were able to expand Impact Programs, and they now include a content agenda, networking, affinity meetups and strategic partnerships,” she said. “I am most proud of the relationships we have established as a foundation to support diversity, equity and inclusion.”
Guinen praised the HLTH Foundation’s patient experience partners, Savvy Cooperative, a patient cooperative that consults on patient-centered healthcare design and insights, Outcomes4Me, Publicis Health and Boston Consulting Group.
“These partners helped us to deliver our most patient- and health equity-focused event to date, with patient consultations, a studio for recording patient and caregiver stories—which we will develop into a comprehensive digital campaign–and a new report that explored the state of patient empowerment among breast cancer patients and proposed a new framework for assessing empowerment in any patient population,” said Guinen.
The research surveyed more than 1,800 breast cancer patients from diagnosis to survivorship.
The Techquity Impact Program, launched with the inaugural ViVE conference last year, will return this year when the conference is hosted in Nashville March 26-29.
“If health tech companies don’t consider health equity needs when they design software, apps, devices, and algorithms, the health equity gap will get wider,” she said. “Unless we pay attention, people who are already systemically disadvantaged will suffer in even greater proportion, and that’s unacceptable.”
Last month, the HLTH Foundation announced the formation of the Techquity for Health Coalition, with the goal of assimilating health equity considerations into healthcare technology innovation and data practices across the industry. It has also launched a survey with collaboration partner IPSOS Healthcare.
“Health inequities thrive in the shadows, where data is lacking. We are urging healthcare leaders to take the survey so we can assess the industry’s current areas of focus with regard to techquity,” said Guinen. “We’ll use this information to help define an agenda for the Coalition, and as a starting point for gathering best practices information.”
As Guinen embarks on another ambitious year for the Foundation she is more excited than ever about amplifying patients’ voices and bringing attention to techquity. “Digitization is an invitation to design for equity and routinely review performance, such as evaluating usability, trust, effectiveness and availability of digital tools for the people who most need them. And that success depends on listening to patients.”
Photo: PeterPencil, Getty Images