HHS launches digital health accelerator to tackle COVID-19 disparities

More than a dozen digital health startups will get federal support to tackle COVID-19 disparities, the Health and Human Services Department announced Tuesday.

These companies are the first selected to participate in the PandemicX Accelerator, which is overseen by the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology and managed by MassChallenge HealthTech, a digital health innovation hub.

The 15 startups selected for the PandemicX Accelerator will be equipped with publicly accessible data from HHS to try to address health disparities exacerbated by the pandemic, according to HHS.

“PandemicX will help give us interoperable tools that identify health inequities and facilitate interventions that prevent such inequities from further turning into healthcare disparities,” National Coordinator for Health Information Technology Micky Tripathi said in a news release. Startups could work on projects that make it easier to get the right data to public health and medical professionals, for example.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted long-standing racial and economic disparities, including inequities linked to lack of access to healthcare and digital technology.

Startups selected for the PandemicX Accelerator include virtual care company Carium, chronic disease support program Culture Care Collective and artificial-intelligence company Ferrum Health. Possible areas of focus include projects related to health equity by design, national public health, mental health and violence prevention, socioeconomic outcomes, and community resilience.

The companies will participate in a four-month program that includes resources and support from HHS, mentorship and collaboration with other companies. Government, business, information technology and public health professionals will offer feedback to the startups as they develop and scale their programs, according to HHS.

HHS announced the PandemicX Accelerator in September, citing a need to address equity challenges now and for future health threats. The PandemicX Accelerator is part of MassChallenge HealthTech’s broader initiatives for next year, which include eight accelerators sponsored by Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and others.

“The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health is making sure that health equity is a cornerstone of our COVID-19 response,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, HHS assistant secretary for health, in prepared remarks in September. “The more critical stakeholders involved in trying to solve the toughest health challenges, the better.”

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