With support from the Equity Initiative, EI Senior Fellows Jeremy Lim and Nicola Pocock organized and moderated a side meeting at the Prince Mahidol Award Conference 2019. “Accelerating UHC through Health Tech – Meet the Disrupters,” held January 29, featured the perspectives of three health tech entrepreneurs from the private and nonprofit sectors: Channé Suy Lan of InSTEDD iLab Southeast Asia (an EI Senior Fellow), Dorothea Koh of Bot M.D., and Kanpassorn “Eix” Suriyasangpetchis of OOCA Thailand.
As Jeremy Lim highlighted in his opening remarks, the principle of universal health coverage is simple – ensuring that people have access to the healthcare they need without suffering financial hardship – but implementing steps to achieve this goal can be incredibly challenging. The three panelists shared some of the ways that they are using high- and low-tech methods – ranging from Artificial Intelligence to smartphone apps to hotlines – to provide new channels for providers to access medical information and for people in need of care to access services.
Key themes related to health equity emerged in the panelists’ discussion with the audience, moderated by Nicola Pocock. Health tech can play a central role in democratizing access to information, panelists pointed out: health data should be available to all, not only those who can afford to pay for it, and tech entrepreneurs are developing ways to provide information in innovative, useful, and affordable ways. Yet too often information remains in siloes and entrepreneurs need to persuade government agencies, hospitals, and health-related associations to make their data accessible and searchable. Getting the right incentives in place can help change mindsets and encourage people to share, rather than protect, information.
As participants pointed out, entrepreneurs can be both disrupters – willing to take risks and shake up the status quo – and facilitators, who can approach government agencies with an attitude of “How can we help you achieve your policy goals?” Panelists called for government officials to support “sandboxes,” which would allow interesting tech ideas to be piloted in a controlled way; for funders to be open to ideas from on-the-ground practitioners; and for international organizations to assume some of the risk for early-stage ideas through seed funding. As importantly, champions are needed, in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, if innovative tech ideas are to move from the design phase to the pilot stage to sustainable programs that effectively deliver health knowledge and care.