Reimagining Community Health Systems Challenge Connects Underserved Areas To Telehealth Services

Jan 13, 2021 5:50 PM ET

If there is a central message to be gleaned from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that we are all in this together—a simple truth that forms the bedrock of PYXERA Global’s “Reimagine Series” of Challenges that turn problems exposed by the pandemic into opportunities to strengthen society.

That spirit of togetherness fueled the winning strategies for better telehealth capabilities in low-income United States communities that arose from the first Challenge of the series, where 40 of the world’s top innovators in software engineering, chemical, and medical technology began Reimagining Community Health Systems in a friendly, but rigorous cross-corporate team competition. The full report on the Challenge’s impact and scope can be found here.

The six-week Challenge that ended in September 2020 included participants from Medtronic, among the world’s largest medical technology, services and solutions companies; SAP, the world’s largest provider of enterprise application software; BD (Becton, Dickinson, and Company), another leading global medical technology company; and Celanese, a global chemical and specialty materials company. The Anchor Partners for this Challenge were National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC), the nation’s leading advocacy group for community-based health centers, and Iowa Primary Care Association (Iowa PCA), an umbrella group for 13 community health centers and a migrant health program in the state.

Healthcare Access Extremely Strained in Low-Income Communities Across the United States

This cross-sector, multi-corporate partnership began with a stark realization about healthcare access in low-income areas of the United States  after the COVID-19 pandemic began.

Access to basic healthcare services in lower-income communities that have been the most affected by the pandemic is extremely limited—either because individuals can’t afford the technology that would connect them to their physicians, the doctors don’t know how to use it or, in the case of far-flung rural areas, there are no broadband capabilities.

That lack of infrastructure became apparent when telehealth companies began contacting NACHC with offers for their services at the outset of the pandemic. NACHC, an umbrella organization for healthcare providers serving 30 million low-income patients across America, struggled to take full advantage of this opportunity. Similarly, Iowa PCA saw that the 13 community health centers and migrant health program it represents were having difficulty serving remote patients.

Enter the Reimagining Community Health Systems Challenge,: PYXERA Global split the 40 corporate participants into two sets of four teams—each assigned to one of the two Anchor Partners in parallel competitions to develop the best strategies to meet that Anchor Partner’s telehealth needs.

Eye-Opening Experiences: Increasing Our Line of Sight

Several participants said the experience of delving into a world to which they previously had little exposure was eye-opening.

They also saw the impact of the Challenge on their own lives, where the experience of working with teammates from different companies and varying professional backgrounds broadened their perspectives.

“This was an extremely rewarding experience for me and a great way to be able to give back in the time of COVID-19, when pro bono opportunities are limited,” said Tyghe Boone-Wortham, a BD participant whose team competed in the Iowa PCA Challenge.

“I got the chance to use my unique skills in a way that really makes a difference for a nonprofit. Also, being a competitive person, I really enjoyed the friendly competition between teams in the Challenge, with the ultimate winners being Iowa PCA, NACHC, and vulnerable populations,” Boone-Wortham said.

While each team developed solutions that could bring the Anchor Partners closer to their goals, the competition judges liked two the most.

For the NACHC Challenge, team R/Evolution Lifeline created a four-part business plan for the organization that, among other things, calls for developing standards of care and best practices in the industry and using its members’ voices to advocate for legislation that would make it easier to treat patients through telehealth technologies.

For Iowa PCA, the Tele-Transformers team developed a plan for the organization to partner with private companies and nonprofits to launch remote patient monitoring systems that can help doctors manage chronic illnesses and detect ailments early on.

“The level of engagement we had, and the quality of work that was presented, would have probably cost us $50,000-$75,000 just to engage with each team if we were to contract the project out,” Jason Patnosh, Associate Vice President of Partnership and Resource Development at NACHC, said about the entire Reimagining Community Health Systems Challenge. “That’s where we have seen some of this value come back to return, so we want to make sure we’re taking the next proper steps forward.”

Accelerating Telehealth Access for All Communities During COVID

With PYXERA Global facilitating, efforts are now under way to refine and implement the winning plans so that NACHC and Iowa PCA become industry leaders in telehealth. For NACHC, that means leveraging population health management analytics, establishing industry-wide standards of best practices, and using the organization’s vast membership base to advocate for legislation that would make it easier to treat patients remotely.

Iowa PCA will embark on a plan to develop telehealth partnerships with private companies and nonprofit organizations serving low-income communities. The patient monitoring systems they plan to launch will enable doctors to manage chronic health problems and detect ailments in their patients before they become major concerns.

 “We are being intentional and thoughtful on all the ideas that came our way and deciding what we can tackle first and what’s the most important for us to do deep dives on, where the more innovative ideas fit in, and a timeline for implementation,” Sarah Dixon, Senior Director of Partnerships & Development at Iowa PCA, said.

Both Anchor Partners said, they are eager to participate in another Reimagine Series Challenge.

“What could be fun from a NACHC perspective is a Challenge on how to build similar engagements, an ongoing series of pro bono opportunities for the whole health center community, and what kind of role NACHC would need to play in that infrastructure,” Patnosh said.

That indeed, is a possibility. Midway through this year, PYXERA Global will revisit where NACHC and Iowa PCA are in their journey and look for opportunities to collaborate again with the private sector.

Please read the full report on the Reimagining Community Health Systems Challenge here to learn more about its scope and impact and look out for the next opportunity to reimagine for systems change.


Alexandra Zhou
Public Affairs, PYXERA Global