July 17, 2024

The Health

Your health, your choice

Technology helps bring health equity to underserved communities

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Health equity, as defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the attainment of the highest level of health for all people. It requires concentrated efforts to eliminate health and healthcare disparities and, more than ever, technology has become a major tool in the process.

Common Ground Health

“From my perspective, technology has a huge value to provide health equity,” says Albert Blankley, COO of Common Ground Health,  a health research and planning organization for the nine county Finger Lakes region founded in 1974.

The organization’s mission is to bring greater focus to community health issues via data analysis, resident engagement and solution implementation, via regional collaboration and partnerships.

Albert Blankley

Blankley formerly served as the non-profit’s director of research and analytics where he helped transform the organization’s data and analytics approach from one of standard quantitative measures to that of unification between health care and equitable clinical data with community information and voices.

“We have a ten-year discrepancy in life care expectancy in our region based just upon zip code,” said Blankley, sharing some of the vast wealth of data Common Ground Health has produced for their health equities studies series and other initiatives. “We know that people in our area can achieve happy, healthy lives, but that same access isn’t available to everyone. And, from an economic perspective, these inequities cost our region over a billion dollars a year.”

That cost, Blankley explains, comes from a myriad of factors: unnecessary visits to emergency departments and hospitals, loss of productivity from illness, and the economic impact of premature death.

Blankley stresses that, from a data set standpoint of health equity, it’s important that everyone’s experiences are captured and that all groups receive the benefits of the findings.

Rochester Regional Health

At Rochester Regional Health (RRH) Dr. LeKeyah Wilson, M.D. is on the frontlines of using technology to support and grow health equity in the community.

With dual board certification in pediatrics and adolescent medicine, Wilson wears many hats, including RRH’s medical director of community pediatrics and wellness, where she is heavily involved in expanding the health system’s telehealth services in the Rochester City School District (RCSD).

Dr. LeKeyah Wilson, M.D.

Wilson oversees RRH’s five school-based health centers in the RCSD. They are staffed by medical and mental health professionals and provide scheduled and walk-in student health services like immunizations, mental health evaluations and nutrition education.

For students enrolled in one of the school-based health centers, RRH provides free TytoCare devices for use at home

TytoCare is a small, handheld digital device with attachments — like an otoscope — that lets healthcare providers guide patients through medical exams remotely.

“We are making sure that they have a seat at the table,” said Wilson, about the families of children seen in their school-based health centers. “We’ve heard loud and clear from our community that they want better access to care. They want options, and Rochester Regional has embarked on this in where we’re using TytoCare to improve access.”

RRH’s Department of Pediatrics is currently collaborating with the University of Rochester’s Department of Pediatrics, Jordan Health, a few independent pediatric practices and the RCSD to get a TytoCare unit placed in every school in the district.

“I have come to realize that the hours of operation of our clinics do not always meet the needs of our community,” said Wilson, who is hopeful the units will be in place by the end of this academic year. “So how can we improve that relationship, that communication, and that access to service? I think that TytoCare provides a new opportunity.”

Janene Baase

Another way RRH increases health equity via technology is by enabling a Spanish language option in its interactive MyCare Patient Portal, which the organization hopes to have completed by Q2 of 2024 according to Janene Baase, an RN who is RRH’s senior director of clinical access.

By the end of this year, Baase is also hopeful the organization will have Epic Clinic to Clinic enabled, helping to reduce the risk of fragmented care, especially for vulnerable populations who might be navigating complex medical conditions.

“It’s kind of opening up that world of care,” Baase said.

Ellie Mental Health

One of Rochester’s newest additions to the healthcare space is Ellie Mental Health, whose mission is to compassionately transform the culture of mental health care by providing creative solutions that make wellness accessible in every community.

Founded in 2015 by Erin Pash and Kyle Keller to destigmatize mental health treatment, Ellie’s core values are creativity, compassion, authenticity, acceptance, determination, and humor.

New York state’s first Ellie Mental Health franchise opened in Brighton in May 2023, according to its owner Fernanda Carley who left the corporate world, where she worked in marketing, to provide a new mental health option to the community.

Fernanda Carley

“In 2016 I had an accident and found myself in a state where I was not myself emotionally,” Carley said. “I found myself sitting in a waiting room and saw the demographics around me — young, old, different cultures, probably different incomes and thought ‘Wow, everyone is affected by mental health.’”

Carley’s experience was so transformative she credits it as a big part of the reason she opened Ellie Mental Health’s Rochester location. The location offers therapy for children, adults, families, and couples via a team of licensed master social workers. Clients can meet with their therapists in person or via telehealth and can also interact with their therapist via a secure online portal.

“Therapy looks different for everybody,” said Carley, about why it’s important to offer both in-person and technology-based services for clients to access and continue care, including an online therapy request form to initiate a first appointment.

Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.