Digital Health

Innovation for Underserved Groups

Rock Health Funding

Venture firm Rock Health recently published an interesting deep dive on the digital health adoption patterns of marginalized user groups that have carried a disproportionate amount of access disparities. The analysis was based on survey results from Rock Health’s latest Digital Health Consumer Adoption Survey of 7,980 US adults, which shed light on where digital health solutions are gaining traction, and where gaps still remain.

Rural households have one of the most persistent adoption gaps among all demographics, with rural respondents reporting lower rates of live video telemedicine use, wearable ownership, and digital tracking of health metrics… and not by a small margin. Rock Health found that rural residents trust health information from a doctor (88%) far more than from a website (52%), highlighting a need to invest in tools that empower rural providers.

  • Startups working to solve these problems include Main Street Health, which pairs rural MA beneficiaries with local health navigators to coordinate chronic care needs, and Homeward Health, which designed its RPM platform to function on cellular networks to bypass the need for a broadband connection.

Medicaid’s 80M beneficiaries account for over $650B in annual health expenditure, and the fact that they use digital health tools at similar levels to the survey average seems to bust the myth that people with low incomes or disabilities won’t use health technologies. 

  • Recent raises from startups like Waymark ($45M) and Clinify Health ($3.1M) have helped support Medicaid care hubs like Federally Qualified Health Centers, and Rock Health expects more innovation to be targeted at these community-based networks.

Women of color reported significantly lower satisfaction with digital health tools than women who identified as white, despite their strong adoption across all modalities. Although the survey didn’t explore the “why” behind the satisfaction levels, Rock Health believes that they may relate to disconnects between product design and the communities using the solutions.

  • Several startups have begun co-designing solutions with their communities to mitigate these satisfaction breakdowns, including Radical Health (online peer support for navigating healthcare journeys) and Grapevine Health (community-created health content that’s then distributed at scale).

LGBQA+ and transgender patients report some of the highest levels of discrimination in health settings, and their sky-high digital health utilization serves as a proxy for lack of trust in traditional care. Rock Health found that 85% of transgender respondents and 33% of LGBQA+ respondents delayed medical care in 2021, and several solutions are entering the market to ensure that care gap doesn’t persist.

  • Startups supporting queer and transgender patients raised a record $311M in 2021, including Folx, which raised $25M to expand its virtual clinical services, and Plume, which raised $14M to help deliver holistic gender-affirming care to anyone who needs it.
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