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Health Equities Action Lab (HEAL)

HEAL.jpg Research suggests traditional forms of health care account for only 10 to 20% of health outcomes while social determinants, such as ethnicity, economic stability, education and access to nutritious foods make up the rest.

How might we empower those who feel powerless?

In March 2017, OSF Innovation placed a focus on developing solutions for those who feel most powerless to improve their health, and formed the Health Equity Action Lab to concentrate on this work. Since then, HEAL has partnered with communities and the University of Illinois at Chicago Innovation Center on a variety of projects to get closer to realizing that goal.

This includes the development of the Innovation Community Health Worker, a digitally enabled, non-clinical team member tasked with connecting disadvantaged individuals to social and health services. This concept was fast-tracked and pivoted to serve patients diagnosed with COVID-19 or with similar symptoms in early 2020.

Digital Health Workers, now part of OSF OnCall Digital Health, digitally connect with and monitor patients at home instead of in a hospital setting, helping slow the rate of new virus cases. With that accomplishment, HEAL’s new goal is to develop solutions for scalable tools, technologies and interventions that promote measurable gains in health equity for our communities. 

Solving for at-risk populations

  • Closing gaps in breast cancer outcomes: About 40% of the country’s female population gets a yearly mammogram, but for low income women over 39, it’s closer to 20%. This means women facing socioeconomic factors don’t get diagnosed with breast cancer until it’s at an advanced stage, leading to higher risk of death. Applying an American Hospital Association grant, HEAL is working with the Data Science and Advanced Informatics Lab to pinpoint populations unlikely to receive mammograms. In partnership with OSF OnCall Digital Health, HEAL will leverage the digital health worker program to reach out to these populations, using mobile communication and education tools to improve breast cancer screening and reduce disparities in breast cancer outcomes.
  • Food insecurity app: People diagnosed with diabetes, heart conditions, high blood pressure and other diseases are typically asked to eat healthy, but that can be difficult for those who can’t afford whole foods or live in areas considered food deserts. In partnership with the UIC Design Lab, HEAL is developing an app that allows people with diet-dependent disorders to connect with local food pantries to meet their food needs. It will also be a means to connect food banks with pantries, and work toward building a more efficient ecosystem of services.
  • Predicting COVID-19 risk: As of now, there really is no way to predict who might contract COVID-19. Working with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, HEAL is developing a digital solution that can capture a person’s risk for catching the virus through proximity detection. The opt-in app would collect anonymous signals, and make the user aware of how much exposure they have had over the course of time. It could also be used to measure “quality time” spent with trusted friends, family and other. This digital tool is a way to help people shape and be aware of new social norms.

Help us better care for those in need!

If you are interested in learning more about the Health Equity Action Lab, participating in certain aspects of the journey or if you want to invest or partner, contact us today.

Leading the Way

Sarah de Ramirez, MD
Sarah de Ramirez, MD VP, Chief Medical Officer Clinical Innovation
Roopa Foulger
Roopa Foulger Collaborator, Data and Advanced Informatics Lab
Noel Adams
Noel Adams Collaborator, Director of Innovation Lab Programming