Equitable Well-Being: Supporting Communities Through Innovation and Collaboration

“When we think about engagement and technology solutions that will connect patients with care providers, we must also expand our reach to include community organizations and increase our aperture to close the digital equity gap – not widen it.”

These were core themes and takeaways from Bechara Choucair, MD, Senior Vice President and Chief Health Officer of Kaiser Permanente at Teladoc Health’s Forum 2022. As part of a fireside chat with Stephany Verstraete, Chief Marketing and Engagement Officer of Teladoc Health, Dr. Choucair shared his unique perspectives on how, as an industry, health must be redefined, the importance of digital equity and the invaluable connection to community that must not be overlooked by providers or health organizations.

Dr. Choucair, who previously served as the White House national vaccinations coordinator, brings an outside-in perspective to addressing many of the barriers to healthcare that the industry faces today. In his view, it is important to reframe health in general in order to prioritize the issues at hand.

Certainly, there is a growing focus on mental health as part of one’s physical health and wellbeing. But Dr. Choucair takes it a step further. He believes that “health” must be reframed as the intersection of physical, mental and social well-being. Social determinants of health are certainly areas of importance and focus for many organizations, but not often are social factors such as transportation, housing, access to care and food considered part of health. They are contributors for sure, but Dr. Choucair claims one’s social health is just as important as any other element of one’s health and should be considered part of a social health practice. Which is why, when investing in new innovations and technologies to engage to with patients, access to care – even through these new modalities - must be considered.

In his words, “You must build a social health practice with the same rigor as building a physician health practice.”

Within his role at Kaiser Permanente, Dr. Choucair studies some of the social impacts of health with great scrutiny to not only understand the impact to overall health but also how to eradicate the issue. For example, he recently dove into the issue of food insecurity. He strove to understand not only the connection between food insecurity and health, but also how many people were suffering from food insecurity within a given geography, how to best screen for food insecurity and how to engage with those in need of assistance.

When it comes to providing support, assistance and resources to individuals, he found that different people respond to different technologies and different approaches. While some patients opted to speak to their healthcare providers about food insecurities, others choose to run through a digital version of the food insecurities screening platform privately on their personal computers. Still others opted to call local community organizations to learn more about available resources.

In this specific situation, Dr. Choucair used a number of communication channels to address food insecurity in his area including a texting program supported by a call center. He estimated that over the course of the campaign, he engaged with 4 million members and supported 100,000 members with food stamps to address food insecurities.

The lesson for those investing in virtual care and telemedicine is to widen the aperture. Yes, the investment of IT infrastructure to address a need is crucial, but in Dr. Choucair’s view, it is just as important to think beyond that infrastructure to analyze inequities in the communities and think through necessary connections to other modalities and even community organizations that can offer additional patient or member support.

What Dr. Choucair demonstrated was the tremendous result of using innovation and community partners to minimize digital inequities. Particularly on the digital front, health organizations and providers must be diligent to ensure that new technologies and innovations – like telehealth – are closing the gap in inequities, not widening them.

For Dr. Choucair, he states that “True digital equity is the ability to ensure that people who want to engage on the digital front have the ability to achieve their personal goals.”

It is imperative to think about how to bridge that gap. Along with virtual care services and new lines of communication, additional resources must be put into place to reach populations in need. In order to fully reach a population in need organizations and community partners must work together to invigorate innovation in the community, amplify each other’s messages and together elevate the health of the total population.

For more great content from Forum 2022, click here.