Helping Community Health Centers Expand Health Access

Health centers participate in Innovation Incubator to inspire new ways to break down the 'digital divide' in health

Sustainability|Sep.27, 2023

The COVID-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated the use of new digital tools in healthcare, with 95% of health centers in the U.S. offering audio and video telehealth for medical visits by 2021. Yet, immense digital and health literacy gaps remain across the country. Research shows that one in four Americans may not have access to technology or the internet, or the ability to use and understand information from digital devices to access care.

That’s why Abbott is teaming up with the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) to find the best ideas that can help health centers across the country to bridge the health "digital divide" that prevents low-income and historically marginalized communities from getting the care they need. NACHC serves as the leading national voice for America’s Community Health Centers, a network of over 1,400 organizations delivering high quality affordable healthcare across nearly 15,000 locations to 31.5 million people.

Through a new Innovation Incubator initiative, select community health centers are receiving funding, access to leading experts and training to help design and test new solutions addressing key digital and health literacy challenges in their communities – from accessing telehealth care, to understanding and using electronic registration and web portal tools, to meeting language and rural health needs. The broader goal is to bring forward the best solutions that can help health centers across the country to address these key gaps.

"We are grateful to work in partnership with Abbott to inspire and support technological innovation in the health center community," said NACHC President and CEO, Kyu Rhee, MD, MPP. "Private partnerships like this provide inspiration to pilot cutting-edge strategies that will expand care beyond the exam room. This new initiative is a game-changer that will harness the expertise of trusted collaborators and support health centers in advancing health equity in underserved communities."

Abbott is supporting the launch of the Innovation Incubator as part of its Future Well Communities program, which is focused on innovating for health access and equity by removing the barriers that prevent people from living healthy.

"Good health remains just out of reach for too many people. For decades, community health centers have been finding innovative ways to bridge gaps and deliver effective primary care," said Melissa Brotz, president of the Abbott Fund and vice president, Global Marketing and External Affairs, Abbott. "At Abbott, we share their commitment to expanding health access to help people live their best lives, and we're excited to work together with NACHC and community health centers to generate new ideas for extending the reach of digital health tools to the people who need them most."

Advancing Health Equity at Community Health Centers

As established, trusted local institutions, community health centers are best suited to work with their communities to address barriers that ultimately impact health.  The Innovation Incubator initiative is designed to help community health centers find new ways to bridge the divide in digital health and literacy to improve health equity. With funding support from Abbott, NACHC's Center for Community Health Innovation and other experts from across the organization launched the incubator in March 2023. Through a competitive process, health centers across the U.S. submitted their proposals and NACHC selected eight health centers to participate.

"La Maestra is excited and grateful for this funding from NACHC and Abbott," said Corinne Hanson, MA, Chief Development Officer at La Maestra Family Clinic based in San Diego County, Calif., one of the health centers participating in the Innovation Incubator Initiative. "Through the incubator program, La Maestra hopes to help seniors, especially low-income, uninsured and underinsured seniors, have better and more intuitive access to La Maestra's patient portal, reduce registration forms, and provide all forms in a larger and easier-to-read and print online format so they can more easily access care."

Using a human-centered design approach that puts the unique perspectives, experiences and challenges of communities at the forefront, the eight selected health centers will build and test solutions over a six-month period. Subject-matter experts across diverse fields – including digital and health literacy, technology, broadband, business development, financial sustainability and others – will provide individualized coaching and mentoring to help the health centers to bring their ideas to life.

Each center will be awarded $40,000 in funding support and will have a chance to win one of two additional $25,000 recognition awards at a live competitive pitch session as the program concludes in Fall 2023. NACHC will then compile and share the results with other health centers across the country.

More information on the Innovation Incubator initiative can be found on the NACHC website.

More information Abbott’s Future Well Communities program can be found on our health equity landing page.