Entrepreneurship, Trends

Investing in Healthcare’s Future by Advancing Innovation Inclusion

Dr. Cheryl Rucker-Whitaker
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On March 7, the American Medical Association (AMA) officially launched a new network and “accompanying set of principles that offers organizations a framework to center equity in their health innovation investment, development, and purchasing efforts as they actively work to shift resources and decision-making to invest and build power in historically marginalized populations.”

Jack Resneck, Jr., M.D., AMA president-elect, explained: “It is crucial that we invest in solutions that are created for, with, and by communities that have traditionally been sidelined from health innovation resources.”

As a recently appointed member of Health2047’s Advisory Board, I applaud this effort. At Health2047, we’re working to drive innovation and inclusion for systemic transformation in American healthcare through championing powerful new ideas, promising entrepreneurs, and engaged industry partners. Supportive networks and investment dollars are key in fostering and instituting real progress.

There are exciting new technologies that can and will enable medical breakthroughs and advance our healthcare capabilities. And there are compelling new operational models that can and will improve health outcomes in communities across the nation. But the need for support, investment, and a shift in resources is paramount in ensuring those inspired ventures succeed and those constructive solutions scale. 

We need to leverage all of America’s talent and diversity of expertise to bring the healthcare sector into the modern age. That requires addressing structural inequities in access and representation within both the medical community and the healthcare investment community if we hope to successfully address intransigent challenges such as grave disparities in access to affordable quality care or disproportionately high instances of chronic disease mortality in minority populations

I recently appeared on the So You Want To Transform Healthcare podcast with Dr. M. Christine Stock on an episode titled Innovating Uphill: The Challenges of Organizational Inertia and Structural Racism, discussing my experiences starting out as a physician-entrepreneur and the types of structural barriers faced by minority innovators seeking to improve healthcare delivery, access, and outcomes.

As a young researcher in Chicago, I was struck by the disparities in chronic disease outcomes for African American people living on the south and west sides of the city. So the first business I started was basically a social-oriented, managed care company in Chicago to address that gap. We were very impactful in several ways. We wanted to build capacity within our community to make Medicaid more effective for the community. So we were intentional about cultivating African American executives, teaching them the rules of Medicaid and clinical audit environments. We built up technical capacity and we built up a whole community of care navigators to help our members negotiate often complex and hostile healthcare environments. We built out a mobile platform that is still in use today. And we also opened the first community healthcare site in our service area. We were embedded in the community with healthcare professionals from the community who were dedicated to supporting that community. 

And we really thought we were bringing something important to the table. Billions of healthcare dollars are being spent every year to improve outcomes for imperiled populations, but the solutions being deployed aren’t working for the communities they’re supposed to serve. We successfully addressed that failure directly at the community level coordinating care for 50,000 people across the south and west sides of Chicago. At the time, we were one of only two Black-owned HMOs in the country, but we faced inordinate barriers to participation in contracting because we weren’t part of the status quo, weren’t expected or encouraged to succeed, and had no leverage within existing networks. Those types of barriers made it an uphill battle every day to participate in the Medicaid program, and we ultimately had to exit due to the lack of statutory capital required to continue.

I learned a great deal from the experience, which has informed my current ventures, and I’m proud of our accomplishments, but I’m certain we might have had more impact and continued to flourish with support from the kind of framework, investment, and development network the AMA just announced. I’m committed to ensuring that the next generation of healthcare pioneers doesn’t face counterproductive roadblocks to positive change, and the types of diverse entrepreneurial networks and support systems that the AMA is spearheading — and that we build at Health2047 — contribute greatly to succeeding in that effort.

— Dr. Cheryl Rucker-Whitaker is an accomplished physician executive and transformational entrepreneur. She was recently listed in Crain’s 2022 Notable Executives of Color in Health Care, and serves on the Advisory Board of Health2047, the Board of Equality Health, and the Board of First Mile Care, a Silicon Valley-based Health2047 spinout and preventative chronic care company developing affordable, scalable, and sustainable solutions to reverse health conditions such as prediabetes. Rucker-Whitaker is also the founder of Complete Care Management Partners LLC., a company that provides urban-based Medicaid focused delegate care management services to Fortune 100 payors, and the cofounder of NextLevel Health Partners, Inc. Rucker-Whitaker received a B.A. in Biology from Emory University, an M.D. from Washington University School of Medicine, and an M.P.H from the Harvard School of Public Health. 


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