In the course of raising funds for three different companies, I have talked to many investors: VCs, angels, private equity, all types. When they asked me, why digital health? Why was I building this? My answer over the years has been consistent. I want to create technology for people who typically don’t have technology built for them—people of color, seniors, the poor, the disabled. These are the people who need the most help.
All too often the response was something like this:
As a startup you need to build technology for rich people, because they can afford to be early adopters.
Each time I heard that, I got a pit in my stomach. I kept asking myself, do all investors think this way? Thankfully, they all do not, but in my experience, the majority of investors believe the path to startup success is through the affluent.
Technology is supposed to help people who can most benefit from it. Technology is supposed to improve productivity and increase quality of life. In healthcare, the people who need higher productivity and better quality of life, are the underserved—people of color, seniors, the disabled and the poor. Those who don’t have access to high quality care, don’t have the best health outcomes. Those are the people who should get technology targeted for them.
Unfortunately, the unwritten rule in Silicon Valley is to create technology for rich people. Call it trickle-down technology, and the investment culture is built on that premise.
My personal experience has been in caregiving for my mother. She almost died having me. As far back as I remember, I always helped my mother take care of herself. She was a highly successful woman, earning a doctorate, two master’s degrees, Ivy League undergraduate and was valedictorian of her high school class. For all of her success, she had health challenges that worsened dramatically as she aged. I cared for her for 10 years prior to her passing, 2.5 of which she lived with me and my family. There wasn’t technology built for my mom as she aged. There were no digital health apps built for me as a caregiver, to coordinate her care and interact directly and confidentially with her professional care teams.
What I’ve also learned as a parent of a special needs child is that there is very little coordination of care services, and even fewer technology options that actually help people who are disabled to get the best outcomes, to get the best education, to get the best attention on their lives, even though they’re the ones who can most benefit from it. I’m not talking about durable medical equipment. I’m talking about digital health solutions, driven by the massive proliferation of mobile technology throughout the world. Until recently, the people who need the technology most, especially in healthcare, have not had access to it. And that’s wrong.
This is the first time in history, in which the people who can most benefit from digital health technology, especially the poor and disabled, those who are most vulnerable, have the ability to get tools and solutions in their hands, because of mobile smart devices. The proliferation of wireless broadband and the ability to drive content and applications to a mobile device are now ever-present. The penetration of these devices into people’s homes, even at lower income levels, has reached a point of saturation, in which there’s no excuse to say that people cannot get access to these types of apps. It’s clear that the Digital Divide is becoming an archaic concept.
The “Digital Divide” is no longer an excuse to ignore investing in solutions for the underserved.
Look at recent data from Pew Internet: 77% plus, of households under $30,000 have mobile phones, of which half are smart technology, and that was as of two years ago. We’re at the point now, where the populations who have the technology in hand, need only the content and the knowledge to realize the promise of technology on their lives.
And here’s the most important development in the quest to serve the most vulnerable with digital health technology solutions: there are massive financial incentives to distribute these solutions to underserved populations for those taking risk for their care. In other words, the buyers for this mobile technology and digital health apps are not the patients and families who may not have the financial means to buy directly, but the entities who benefit financially from their patients’ continued health.
The technology buyers are the payers and providers with incentive to reduce hospital readmissions and avoidable emergency department visits. They gain the most financially. So now you have a financial buyer with a vulnerable and expensive population coupled with the penetration of mobile devices for point-of-care solutions. The power to improve healthcare is literally in the hands of the people who need it most.
Again, this is the first time in history when all of those factors are aligned. It’s more than just an opportunity, it’s a moral imperative to create technology solutions that help the underserved, that help the people who need it most.
As an African-American man with experience caring for an aging parent and a special needs child, who has the skills of an entrepreneur, who has the background in technology management and development, I take it as a personal responsibility to create technology for people who look like me. To drive new technologies in these communities. If I don’t take on this challenge, who will? This is why I do what I do. This is why our team built Care3. Now is the time to meet the challenge, to create solutions, not for the rich people, but for society’s most vulnerable.
About the Author
David S. Williams III is a serial digital health entrepreneur and co-founder and CEO of Care3, a next generation technology platform inspired by his experience caring for his special needs son and the realization that the most vulnerable members of our society including seniors, people of color, and the disabled do not have equal access to healthcare and receive woefully inadequate quality of care in their homes and communities. Care3 is built to fix these unacceptable and unnecessary disparities. David serves on the Board of Advisors of The Price Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UCLA. He is a 2013 Henry Crown Fellow of The Aspen Institute and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. David earned a BS in Economics and Entrepreneurial Management from The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA in Digital Strategy with a certificate in Corporate Governance from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.