By Sonia K. González, DrPH, MPH
Derrick uses they/them pronouns and is a social entrepreneur, consultant, executive coach, speaker, model, and skincare enthusiast. They identify as an afro-latinx, queer, gender non-binary, native New Yorker. Derrick leads Queerly Health, a social mission-driven company leveraging concierge health and digital health to end LGBTQ+ health disparities by 2030. They and Queerly Health have been featured in Forbes, SXSW, Product Hunt, SuperMaker, and TechRepublic. Derrick often advises and mentors other startup founders and, on occasion, co-facilitates a college class, walks a designer runway, or spends time at the United Nations as a delegate. You can follow Derrick on Twitter and Instagram at @QueerlyDerrick, and Queerly Health at @QueerlyHealth. To check out Queerly Health’s COVID-19 Response, click here.
I attended NYU for graduate school where I studied Human Development & Social Intervention and completed an Advanced Certification in LGBTQ+ Health, Education, & Social Services. It became super salient to me, beyond my own personal experience, that LGBTQ+ health disparities were socially engineered due to a lack of access. I had the idea for Queerly Health after graduating. Although, the idea and its trajectory as a startup has evolved dramatically over time. I sat on the idea for about three years and spent my time in clinical research and the non-profit space. I kept seeing use cases for something like Queerly Health come up over and over again. I also saw the way digital health was booming and seemed to be leaving out the LGBTQ+ community like much of traditional healthcare did. I decided that wouldn’t happen on my watch. I entered an online coding program with the intention of becoming a software engineer to one day work at a health tech company to build Queerly Health. I realized that route would take years. I knew people needed Queerly Health yesterday and that this idea was never going to be “perfect enough”, that I would never be “ready enough”. So I pitched Queerly Health for the first time ever at a Latinx in Tech Weekend competition a few days later in late September 2018. Queerly Health won two prizes: first place and crowd favorite. I’ve hit the ground running ever since.
We were gearing up to launch our first product/service at the start of 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York. This pandemic is likely to widen existing LGBTQ+ health disparities, and we’re intervening. We’ve pivoted to launch a national and state by state directory of LGBTQ+ affirming practitioners offering free visits and resources.
Our original offering before COVID-19 utilizes a HIPAA compliant chat bot to link individuals to our Concierge Health Advocate Team, which further connects folks to vetted LGBTQ+ affirming practitioners and resources.
From the time I actually started working on Queerly Health until now, it’s been about 21 months.
I’ve spent much of the last 21 months learning how to be an entrepreneur and navigate what I refer to as “StartUp Land”. I believe entrepreneurship can be taught and I’ve definitely had support in that from my advisor and programs like Founder Gym. I think the hardest part about transitioning into business has been learning to be patient with myself and the time it takes to build out a company, especially in health.
I know when it comes to LGBTQ+ health, NYC has some of the largest LGBTQ+ health organizations that have been around for decades. As far as I’m concerned, NYC is the greatest city in the world and a capital of innovation. I think that lends to a culture and ecosystem that fosters the development of health tech because it’s long overdue for the health sector, as the COVID-19 pandemic is showing.
The greatest challenges to health tech, which is being addressed pretty quickly these days, are restrictions, regulations, and parameters in the health sector predating much of the innovation in health tech. For example, the grey landscape when it comes to reimbursements for telehealth visits through medicaid and medicare or practitioners not being able to practice across state lines via telehealth before. The greatest opportunities right now and for the next few years will be in the response and innovations surrounding COVID-19 and moving more of health and wellness into the home.
As health and wellness becomes more personalized, consumer driven, people-centric, and automated, public health will have to leverage health tech to keep up with the ever changing demand of consumers, drive down costs, and streamline operations. Doing this will also allow public health systems and practitioners the added capacity to address health inequities for marginalized populations and tailor approaches to them.
What is the best advice you have been given?
To keep going, no matter what.