By Sonia K. González, DrPH, MPH
Dr. Uché Blackstock is the Founder and CEO of Advancing Health Equity, which partners with healthcare organizations and institutions to address the critical factors contributing to health inequity, through keynote talks, interactive trainings and consulting services.
She is a former Associate Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and the former Faculty Director for Recruitment, Retention and Inclusion in the Office of Diversity Affairs at NYU School of Medicine. She left NYU in December 2019 after almost 10 years on faculty to focus on Advancing Health Equity.
Dr. Blackstock received both her undergraduate and medical degrees from Harvard University.
As a child, I watched my mother, Dr. Dale Blackstock, a Black woman in medicine, navigate the world with the odds squarely stacked against her. Raised by a single mother with six children, on public assistance, my mother was the first person in her family to attend college. She died at only 47 years old. My mother was my role model and the reason why I became a physician. My mother’s legacy inspires me to use my voice to mobilize for health equity and to work towards mitigating the detrimental effects of structural racism on health outcomes. Ultimately, I created Advancing Health Equity with the goal of partnering with healthcare organizations to address the critical factors that contribute to health inequity, through speaking engagements, workshops, and consulting services.
We know that recruiting and retaining a diverse workforce is one of the solutions to addressing healthcare inequities, however, often healthcare organizations do not provide supportive and inclusive environments to maintain a diverse workforce. Advancing Health Equity offers a racial equity culture analytic tool for healthcare organizations to use to assess the degree of racial equity in their work environment – an environment where every individual can thrive and reach their highest potential, regardless of their race.
Additionally, Advancing Health Equity offers talks and workshops on unconscious bias and structural racism in healthcare for health IT companies. It’s imperative for the people who work in health IT to recognize their own biases and where these biases derive from, as well as to understand the historical and current-day significance behind health inequities. We have already seen that if these factors are not taken into account by health IT companies that health technology products and services can reinforce bias and racism in healthcare.
I’m very interested in expanding my services more into the healthcare IT space. As I mentioned above, over the last fifty years, there have been significant developments in healthcare technology, however, racialized health inequities have persisted. Artificial intelligence (AI) is being utilized more and more in health care, though recent studies have shown that if software developers carry biases and/or their data sets are biased, already vulnerable and marginalized patients will be further detrimentally affected, compounding preexisting health inequities.
For example, recently an algorithm used by several healthcare companies that provide care for over 200 million people to allot resources for patients ended up systematically discriminating against Black patients because developers did not take into consideration how structural racism influences how and whether patients access care.
The hardest part is that physicians learn very little about business as part of our education and training, which is interesting because healthcare spending reaches trillions of dollars annually. Additionally, most physician-entrepreneurs usually run clinically-oriented businesses where they are providing direct patient care. My business model is quite different as I’m providing talks, workshops and consulting services to healthcare and healthcare-related organizations. I’m lucky to have connected with other like-minded entrepreneurs and I already have business mentors and coaches who are available whenever I need their advice.
I think NYC naturally would become a leader in the health tech sector since healthcare is the number one industry in the city, based on the number of employees here. In addition, we have a significant aging population that requires better care. These factors, plus being always known as the city of energy and hope, makes NYC the perfect location for the health-tech sector.
As I alluded to above, from my perspective, one of the greatest challenges in health-tech will be for companies to ensure that their products and services do not reinforce health inequities. Companies will have to be very intentional about their efforts to avoid doing so. One of the solutions will be prioritizing diversity efforts in the health-tech workforce. The issue is not only a pipeline issue, but other factors like workplace cultures, exclusionary hiring practices, unfair compensation, and tokenization lead to a lack of diversity in the tech space, including health tech.
Absolutely, health tech has a significant role in helping marginalized communities. It’s crucial for health tech companies to be familiar with the populations and communities they serve. They must go into the communities, speak with community members, form relationships with community-based organizations and understand the structural barriers facing the communities they serve. Black and Brown communities are more likely to be mobile-first users, since their communities may not have accessible internet or because broadband connection rates are unaffordable. Health tech companies have a tremendous opportunity to make a difference in terms of health outcomes in these communities.
One of my mentors, who has been in the health IT space for years, always reminds me to protect my energy since my hope is to be in this – running my business, Advancing Health Equity- for the long game. Over the last year, I’ve received a considerable amount of exposure and demand for my time and services is high, but his advice is a constant reminder to remember my priorities and goals, and to choose projects wisely.
• Grew up in: Brooklyn
• City or town you call home: Brooklyn
• Current location: Brooklyn
• Job title: Founder and CEO, Advancing Health Equity
• Background and education: BA, Harvard College; MD, Harvard Medical School
• Your motto: “When I dare to be powerful—to use my strength in the service of my vision—then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid,” – Audre Lorde
• As a child, you wanted to be: A doctor, surprise!
• Health Tech social media must follow: @onboardhealth on Twitter and its Founder @mindofandre, OnBoard Health connects a diverse workforce with health IT companies.
• Health Tech websites and newsletters you read: I read Health IT Analytics website frequently to stay up to date on health tech developments.