Interview with Garth Graham, MD, MPH, President of Aetna Foundation
HealthIT & mHealth: What types of philanthropy does Aetna Foundation do?
Garth Graham: In general, we do grants targeted in the space of innovations that help underserved and hard-to-reach communities. We fund technological and other kinds of population health innovations targeted for health care providers.
HealthIT & mHealth: What type of innovations has Aetna Foundation supported for underserved communities?
Graham: We have funded a number of different projects that deal with clinical care or public health within these populations. An example project is a two-way text messaging system provided to churches within African American communities. The project aims to connect health ministers in those churches with people in the congregation that are interested improving their health. Another project works to integrate the social determinants of health with the patient encounters in the EHR. This allows providers who are viewing a patient’s clinical results to integrate social factors into clinical decision making.
HealthIT & mHealth: What are the typical health issues that underserved populations face?
Graham: In underserved and minority communities you see a higher rate of heart disease, diabetes and many cancers. There is a higher increase in a lot of chronic illnesses.
HealthIT & mHealth: What types of educational materials does Aetna Foundation provide for this community and their children?
Graham: We work with a number of grantees who are directly working with children around using technology to improve health. For example, we work with well-known organizations like the YMCA, which have a long track record of working with kids. We work with a number of these groups using technology that children are familiar with to help educate them around the kinds of things that will make them healthier.
HealthIT & mHealth: How did the passing of ACA affect the foundation and your projects?
Graham: The ACA in general, theoretically brought more coverage to minority groups and other underserved communities. However, that did not directly affect our projects. We are partnered with the HHS, the HHS IDEA Lab and folks in the community to come up with ideas around how to use technology to improve health in underserved communities. We announced some of the grants we are doing with the HHS at Health 2.0. The ACA created entities like the HHS IDEA Lab, which has helped to create more nodes of innovation to help develop some of these ideas.
HealthIT & mHealth: What are the top disparities and barriers that the underserved population faces?
Graham: There are two major barriers. One is access, which includes access to primary care and access to specialty care. The other is strategies to improve preventative care in these communities.
HealthIT & mHealth: Does Aetna Foundation do any projects focusing on mental health issues?
Graham: Access to mental health services is a major problem for the underserved communities. A lot of underserved individuals within these communities may not present directly to a mental health provider, they may present to a primary care provider. We work with organizations such as NAMI, which tries to bring more integration of mental health care into the primary care setting.
HealthIT & mHealth: I even have problems trying to read my own healthcare bills. Are there resources to help underserved individuals navigate the convoluted healthcare industry?
Graham: There are two challenges there, one is health literacy in general, which is a challenge even for physicians and other healthcare workers. It is so complicated. The other challenge is a language barrier. What we are really looking to do is create technology that will educate people at a specific time when they are experiencing healthcare questions. A big part of it for us is using mobile health and digital health technology to give people the health information they need, right when they need it.
HealthIT & mHealth: What do you think the next policy or technology should be that would help this population the most?
Graham: I think the two major things are empowering people, and making the healthcare system simpler for these communities. We are looking at ways that we can do that with technology