Through grants, sponsorships and employee volunteerism, Aetna and the Aetna Foundation are working to help improve the health of children and adults and to make the healthcare system more equitable and effective. Garth Graham, M.D., M.P.H., is the current president of the Aetna Foundation and former deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) during both the Bush and Obama administrations. Here he discusses some of the most pressing issues he’s seeing, as well as the Aetna Foundation.
People are using wearable technology and smartphone apps for just about everything these days. How do you see the Aetna Foundation’s commitment to technology playing a role in reshaping health?
Digital health technology provides a powerful tool to reach people with real-time health solutions that fit easily into their daily lives. In early 2014, the Aetna Foundation significantly expanded its commitment to digital health technology and mobile health solutions. Our $4 million, three-year commitment will help to implement and evaluate technology innovations that can help reach underserved communities with health solutions.
But does this technology really impact underserved groups?
People from all walks of life are increasingly relying on technology and we are increasingly seeing technology being utilized more among underserved communities, which offers an opportunity for direct education to individuals that have been hard to reach in the past. In fact, adults living in poverty account for 56% of cell phone-only households (CDC), making mobile technology a powerful equalizer for low-income communities. One example of our work is the Institute for eHealth Equity’s Text4Wellness program that focuses on reaching African American women ages 19 to 55 in Cleveland, Ohio. Women are a key audience because they not only make decisions about their own health, but are also more likely to be the decision-makers in their homes regarding food choices, meal preparation and wellness activities. Through programs like Text4Wellness, we are helping underserved communities access the tools that they already use daily to impact their health.