This summer, teams from four of the world’s top software development, medical technology, and global technology firms embarked on PYXERA Global’s Reimagining Community Health Systems Challenge to make telemedicine more widely available in medically underserved communities in the U.S. that have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. With the National Association of Health Centers and the Iowa Primary Care Association guiding the five-week challenge as anchor partners, the teams have immersed themselves in the hard realities of seeking basic healthcare services in areas with little or no digital access. They have collaborated on innovative ways to bridge those gaps and, along the way, have discovered new skills, different perspectives on healthcare access, and new friends. Below, two of the participants—Suzie Moskal of Medtronic and Fouad Sadik of SAP—share their experiences midway through the Reimagining Community Health Systems Challenge.
What made you want to join this challenge?
Suzie Moskal — Senior IT Manager at Medtronic and a Medtronic Global Innovation Fellow based in Memphis, Tennessee: I have a passion for removing barriers to access to healthcare. I come from a very service-oriented family. Growing up in that type of environment, there was always a strong focus on volunteerism and service to our communities. I have seen so many barriers to access here in Memphis. It is interesting when you live in a space where some people have a lot of access to high-quality care and, yet, we have neighbors who have no access or little access. That translates to how they are able to participate in the community. This challenge seemed unique because it addressed both the provider side and the patient side with re-imagining telehealth and what healthcare delivery could look like in a post-COVID world. So, seeing this challenge come across my inbox really made me excited because it seemed to align with my personal passion for giving more healthcare access to more people.
Fouad Sadik — Development Architect at SAP based in Montreal, Canada: The opportunity to make a change and to improve people’s lives. It is a great pro bono activity during the time of COVID-19. It has a direct influence on physicians, patients, and the medical ecosystem. To be honest, that is the main reason why I applied. Also, I work for SAP, and one of the multiple hats I wear is that of a volunteer ambassador, where I coordinate volunteering activities within the company every October. This kind of opportunity is a great fit for what I enjoy doing: volunteering. As soon as I saw “COVID” and “volunteering” to make a change, I submitted my qualifications, and I was lucky enough to be accepted.
Were you surprised to learn that, in these communities, basic health care treatment is not being sought due to fears about coronavirus infection?
Suzie Moskal: I do a lot of fly fishing in Arkansas. We have been fishing out there for about 20 years, and what I’ve noticed through the course of doing that drive from Tennessee to Arkansas is how the communities are starting to fall and, where there were healthcare clinics, to see them become dilapidated, decrepit buildings that eventually close. As the community’s economy was drying up, it was hard for the doctors and dentists to stay there. Regional medical centers were consolidating, which was not a surprise to see in a rural setting. What was shocking to learn is how little healthcare access there is in urban settings, especially in the wake of COVID-19 where it is hard for people who don’t have access to a car to get places. If you do not have a strong public transportation system that is available through a pandemic like this, it is difficult to get to a care provider.
Fouad Sadik: I would have expected basic care to continue. Because of COVID, things are changing dynamically. Services like basic care should continue no matter what. I live in the city, and we have lots of hospitals. Even with COVID, we have telehealth services online. The city reserved special hospitals for patients who might have symptoms for COVID, and they even had mobile locations for people to visit. The way the city prepared was phenomenal. Part of this challenge is to bring healthcare alternatives for locations that are distant and have no healthcare access or no digital footprint. I cannot begin to imagine how people who live in far and distant locations are trying to cope with this kind of change. We are trying to come up with new ideas so that we can improve healthcare access for those who have a disadvantage when it comes to technology.
What, so far, has been the most rewarding and challenging aspect of participating in this multi-company project?
Suzie Moskal: One of the things that have been the most rewarding is that it is multi-company. We have people with different perspectives. On our team, we are working with a company that specializes in electronic health records, and we are learning how they are used in a clinical setting. In my seat at Medtronic, I am more removed from the clinician, so it has been great to hear that perspective. We also have someone from SAP who is based in a different country, and she is able to provide a perspective of the language barrier aspects, which helps us to think about care delivery in a clinic where you are dealing with people who do not speak English as a first language. As we work as a team, we may need to explain things that we just assume everyone knows about the American healthcare system. We need to make sure that we can understand it well enough to explain it and get the perspective of: “Why do you do it that way? Here’s how it works in my country.”
Fouad Sadik: This is an opportunity to discover new ideas and perspectives from energetic colleagues. We are a team of five, and we have different skill sets, ages, and backgrounds. Being part of a team of five allows us to divide and conquer the deliverables according to each member’s skill set, which is excellent. As a development architect, I have more of a technical background. I do not have as much knowledge on the business side, so this challenge allowed me to capture business ideas, to be part of designing concepts, and to brainstorm about business journey maps or other business opportunities that I would not do in my daily work as a design architect. I like how I am being challenged right now, participating with multiple colleagues from different companies.
How can increased digital capacity strengthen the role that community health centers play in lower-income communities that have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Suzie Moskal: One way is using the data they collect for advocacy. Seeing that COVID-19 is disproportionately impacting people of color and poorer communities is a shocking data point that I feel can help us advocate for greater healthcare coverage for a wider range of people. That takes us to the second step of care delivery, where we talk about expansion and being more creative with how access is opened. Instead of a traditional model of going into a clinic and seeing a physician on-site or being dependent on video, are there ways that we can deliver care out in a community that may mimic some of the things that we see in other countries, like India, where healthcare can be delivered through smartphone apps? We can shift our thinking here in the U.S. to make healthcare more accessible and, hopefully, more affordable. We can still make it financially viable for the care provider but also give care to people who do not have it through more creative uses of technology that are telephonic, app–based, or on an asynchronous as opposed to synchronous delivery model.
Fouad Sadik: By providing a digital footprint, Internet access, or anything involving technology to those locations. The community health centers can promote those communities when it comes time to talk with private companies, on the state or on the federal level. Within the challenge, we are trying to come up with solutions for communities that do not have smartphones. These communities are distant and dispersed, with many miles between each house. Community health centers can play a role in expanding technology to those locations by saying [to technology companies]: “We are playing our part. How about you?” The health communities can also begin partnering with libraries, religious groups, or small community centers so that they can use their network for anyone who would like to come and use telehealth services. Over the long term, we need to have a foundation for the infrastructure to be built.
How do you see this project benefitting you in the future, personally and professionally?
Suzie Moskal: I feel like I am having an impact. It is giving me an opportunity to give back, to be part of a solution, and to be part of shaping the future and making it better for more people. I love that I am able to do skill-based volunteering. I love that I am able to not just learn along the way but to apply my learning in a creative way that I hope will change the future. Professionally, this project is allowing me to exercise a lot of the skills that I need in the workplace. I am able to exercise planning, program management, human-centered design, and other skills that I need in order to be a better employee for my employer. I am able to learn new skills, work in teams with diverse perspectives, and take the experience back with me into my workday.
Fouad Sadik: When I learned about this project, I wanted to be part of it because I would be bringing a change. Now, I can proudly say that I was part of a project that is bringing change to daily health services. I am proud that I am doing this, and I hope that it will be expanded to other states. Also, the project gives me satisfaction to know that my skills are being used to improve health during the pandemic. On a professional level, I now know more about digital health services, especially software solutions. Because I am the technical person on my team, I have conducted detailed research for the majority of all the desired functionalities and features, and I know about those software programs and what they are offering. When I go back to my team [at SAP], I will tell them about my experience, what I learned from a business perspective, and what I learned about community health.
The Reimagining Community Health Systems Challenge includes team members from the following participating partners: SAP, a global market leader in enterprise application software, database analytics, intelligent technologies, and experience management; the Medtronic Foundation, the philanthropic wing of Medtronic, a leading international medical technology company; BD, another leading global medical technology company; and Celanese, an international chemical and specialty materials company whose products are used to enrich medicine, food, and an array of other materials.
The challenge kicked off in July, with teams collaborating virtually throughout the month of August. The scope of NACHC’s portion of the challenge involves developing a telehealth business plan for community health centers across the country, with an emphasis on including community stakeholders who can help determine the role the umbrella organization can play in making telemedicine more widely available. The scope of the Iowa Primary Care Association’s portion is to develop a step-by-step framework to roll out telemedicine to the organization’s network of 13 community health centers and one migrant health program.
The winning solution will be announced in early September, followed by a pilot phase for implementing the winning solution for the two Anchor Partners.