How scientists, social workers, and healthcare providers are working together at Alphabet to improve care for low-income urban populations.
Digital technology is enabling a revolution in care delivery systems across the country. Thanks to recent advances in medical search, chatbots, and AI, patients have more ways to engage with healthcare providers than ever. Even in the midst of this transformative time, however, some people find themselves being left behind. Low-income patients, especially those in poor urban areas, currently navigate a complex set of circumstances that prevent them from gaining access to quality care.
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and its subsidiary, Sidewalk Labs, is working to change that. Sidewalk Labs recently announced the launch of Cityblock, a program focused on providing hyper-local, team-based care for low-income communities. Though it’s difficult to provide higher-quality care at a lower cost while maintaining profitability, Alphabet’s verified track record of impactful healthcare advances — as well as its vast financial resources — makes it a likely candidate for success.
One Block at a Time
The impetus behind Cityblock is the striking correlation between zip code and health status in urban areas throughout the country. Siloed service delivery and fragmented data — combined with poverty, limited food access, unemployment, violence, and a host of other factors — result in falling healthcare outcomes for the country’s most vulnerable. With the help of community partners, the team behind Cityblock hopes to overhaul the way we design and provide healthcare services to these patients.
Cityblock will provide Medicaid and low-income Medicare beneficiaries with access to high-quality, personalized care by coordinating with service organizations, insurance companies, and healthcare providers. The project’s clinics, called “Neighborhood Health Hubs,” will offer physical meeting spaces within pre-existing facilities where neighborhood residents can receive services in a low-cost, culturally appropriate setting. Care plans will emphasize long-term, trusting relationships between patients and their care providers, and will accommodate needs like in-home care or transportation to and from facilities. The first of these hubs will open in New York City in 2018, and the team plans to rapidly expand their reach from there.
Cityblock’s program revolves around Commons, a custom-built, centralized platform that will collect and share patient data across care providers. This software tool fills a gap for patients, many of whom have piecemeal electronic medical records, but it will also allow Cityblock to observe trends across the country, scale its care delivery system, and eventually validate its efforts.
A Larger Tech Trend
Cityblock and solutions like it are part of the larger trend toward using technology to solve complex healthcare problems, especially for vulnerable populations. We’ve seen how the right technology can help patients take control of their health and guide their own care, but many of those innovations cater only to those who can afford them. When accounting for R&D and implementation, tech often raises the price of care rather than lowering it. But people without health insurance or with limited financial means also deserve access to quality, cutting-edge care.
Instead of simply providing community clinics with advanced tech that may raise prices and reduce access, medical organizations need to rethink their strategies and incorporate input from the people they’re trying to help. By combining healthcare innovation with smart social services, strong doctor-patient relationships, and an emphasis on preventative care, technology can amplify the quality of and access to healthcare services for millions of Americans.