African American babies are impacted by infant mortality more than twice as often as non-Hispanic whites, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. In the state of Ohio, African Americans are at least three times as likely to suffer from infant mortality.
“In Cuyahoga County, in Cleveland, last year African Americans suffered six times the infant mortality rate than Caucasians,” stated Silas Buchanan, co-founder and president of OurHealthyCommunity.com. “More focus on social determinants of health could certainly help remedy some of the issues.”
With this in mind, HIMSS is partnering with Ohio community health organizations, OurHealthyCommunity.com and The Cleveland Foundation's CTL+ALT+CLE initiative, plus health IT solution developers for Battle for Our Babies. This ongoing initiative focuses on amplifying awareness and creating solutions that address infant mortality, especially in underserved communities.
72 percent of infant mortality loss results from premature births, which can in large part be driven by stress as an external factor, Buchanan explains. “When you look at the fact that an African American female with a PhD, or an MD is more likely to lose her infant than an uneducated Caucasian woman who lives in the inner city, you might ask – is systemic racism possibly a driver of stress?”
There’s also the issue of culturalism, he said. “Many grandmothers slept with their babies and will tell moms ‘I slept with you, you’re fine.’ Yet, we hear so many stories where a parent or loved one rolls over their child and they are killed. So we need to get the message delivered to grandmothers to deliver downstream to new moms so that we can change this behavior.”
Health doesn’t always happen inside a health system or a clinic, but it always happens within communities. “If you’re a relatively healthy person, you may only spend around 20 minutes per year at the doctor’s office. However, if you’re a spiritual person and go to church every week, you’ll spend around 70 hours a year in church or supporting your church,” said Buchanan. “Empowering trusted voices within communities – whether it’s a pastor, a barber, the owner of a corner store – could be very helpful.” Buchanan emphasized the importance of having technology-based tools in place to reach these trust brokers, and the fact that messages from trusted and known community figures can sometimes have the most impact.
“If my doctor tells me something, or social service agency tells me something, or a public health official tells me something, I may believe it, I may not. But if my pastor delivers that same information, or if I’m sitting in the barber shop and that conversation is happening in a trusted environment – or if you’re talking to the corner store owner about it, who you’ve known for 15 years – it may resonate more powerfully,” Buchanan said. “That layer of faith and community-based organizations should not be overlooked or excluded.”
Battle for Our Babies is a series of events using everything from visual arts and spoken word, to basketball and culinary arts competitions to educate the community and help reduce infant mortality rates. The Battle for Our Babies Tech Developers Challenge is explicitly focused on finding ways to elevate underserved community members – and those that service them – through technology. We aim to directly inform the design and development of technology-based tools, trackers, applications and/or devices that underserved community members, community health workers and others allied with them might adopt and utilize to improve birth outcomes and reduce infant mortality rates.
HIMSS is issuing a national challenge to the technology developer community to ideate and innovate specific solutions based directly on the information and feedback provided by the community stakeholders. The winning technology developer will receive $10,000 to support further development of their innovation. All participating technology developers will be strongly encouraged to involve STEM students in their work.
“A lot of the discussions centered on design thinking – to ideate and innovate tech solutions for the infant mortality crisis happen, not only in Northeastern Ohio, but across the country,” Buchanan explained. “So HIMSS has been pivotal in driving this to the health tech developer community.”
Developers are encouraged to focus on expectant fathers in their solutions as well. “When dad feels out of the loop, it can create stress inside the relationship,” Buchanan explained. “If we can find ways to better engage dads in the pregnancy – that could alleviate this stress.”
Buchanan also encouraged developers to consider the role of community health workers. “We’ve heard so many community health workers say, ‘I wish we had an app that helped to connect community members into a variety of different services.’ So how can a tool, tracker, app or device shorten the distance between payers, providers, community health workers and community members?” he asked. “Not just from a referral standpoint, but how do you track whether or not the person went where they were referred to? There’s lots of resources out here and there’s lots of organizations that will point people in directions, but very few actually track rather they went and what their experience was.”
The developer challenge portion of the initiative has officially opened. “We are implementing an online chat system so as the developers are ideating, they’ll have access to these community health leaders and members to more accurately refine their thinking. This way when they pitch or share their idea, it will include direct feedback from the community. There’s no fees for developers to submit applications, and potential financial return of winning solutions includes the $10,000 grand prize,” he explained.
“I think what the tech developer community may come up with will have global implications, because infant mortality rates aren’t just poor in Northeast Ohio – they’re poor in underserved communities, rural and urban, across the world,” Buchanan said. “It’s important we consistently share, especially with underrepresented populations, the benefits of adopting and utilizing technology to improve health outcomes. And we are so excited to partner with the team at the HIMSS Innovation & Conference Center, a global leader that sits at the intersection of health and technology.”
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