Addressing the Healthcare Crisis in Philadelphia’s Poorest Neighborhoods

How the Digital Health Initiative of Philadelphia Began

Named the “poorest big city in America,” Philadelphia has plenty of challenges, and one of the most damaging is the impact on our poor communities in the area of healthcare. Philadelphia County has more than 500,000 Medicaid enrollees, and care for these vulnerable populations strains the entire healthcare system, diverting resources from other areas of investment that would otherwise benefit our region. Poverty costs us jobs, new business development, tourism, and other growth opportunities.

As a native-born Philadelphian, I am deeply invested in helping our city achieve success. I believe that now is a unique time when the convergence of healthcare payment reform, advances in digital health, and the will of the country serve as a springboard we can use to better the lives of our citizenry. Philadelphia is taking steps toward healthcare reform, through activities such as the Chamber of Commerce’s Healthcare Action Team, which brings together healthcare business leaders to develop a collective agenda for the healthcare industry within Philadelphia. But healthcare is a big issue—and as with all major enterprises, it is easy to get mired in details and analysis, and lose our forward momentum.

In the interest of achieving tangible progress, I started meeting with people and organizations who were motivated to move quickly to elevate this issue Philadelphia. Ben Franklin Technology Partners, a venture capital firm that funds small healthcare companies, has an appetite to bring the benefits of healthcare IT to Philadelphia, and was trying to figure out how to promote digital health in a broader way. This focus supported my goal to promote healthcare IT in the region not only for my business, but in the interest of making Philadelphia a leader in this space. They started putting me in touch with others in the industry, and I went on a speaking and listening tour to learn more about the healthcare challenges within Philadelphia.

In the meantime, the Health Enterprise Zone (HEZ) initiative got off the ground—and was directly in line with the work we do for other organizations across the nation. In a sense, I became a champion of driving the population health model within our city, developing a framework to bring technology platforms together to support populations. Taking on the role of convener, I have been working to align partners with technology and to connect users to develop a ready-made network of lives being managed and organizations willing to impact lives. The result is the Digital Health Initiative of Philadelphia, or DHIP—an initiative created to leverage technological innovation from health IT companies in the region to benefit the most vulnerable populations of Philadelphia.

This is a win-win-win scenario—for patients, for health IT companies, and for Philadelphia. Patients win because the latest healthcare technology is being applied to create better outcomes for some of our most vulnerable patients. Health IT companies win by putting innovative solutions to work on real populations to validate their technologies. Philadelphia wins by not only by enabling providers and businesses to be successful and by improving the health of its citizens, but by becoming a leader in managing population health in a way that will attract investment and jobs to the area.

Philadelphia has so many things in its favor, including all the raw ingredients to become a true leader in the optimized delivery of healthcare. What we need to do is take these raw ingredients—the social services, big medical centers, teaching facilities, and all the burgeoning technology and entrepreneurship in the city—and create the right combination that can provide the biggest impact on healthcare reform. The benefits are many. And it just makes sense.

Read more about the Digital Health Initiative of Philadelphia.

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