BOSTON, MASS. — Today, the Massachusetts eHealth Institute at MassTech (MeHI) launched a new Digital Health Challenge focused on bolstering support for Women+ communities. The event was sponsored by the chairs of the Joint Committee on Healthcare Financing, State Senator Cindy F. Friedman and State Representative John J. Lawn, Jr. The kickoff for the second session in MeHI’s Challenge series brought together leaders across the Digital Health ecosystem to examine and tackle health-related issues faced by Women+, which includes the needs of cisgender women and transgender or nonbinary individuals whose health needs relate to those of cisgender women. The second event in a series launched late last year by MeHI, the new Challenge includes the issues of maternal health, reproductive equity, mental health, and disease prevention.
The event kicked off with a keynote address from Undersecretary of Economic Strategies Sarah Stanton of the Executive Office of Economic Development; featured a panel of health leaders from the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the startup community; and concluded with a showcase of the Digital Health Sandbox Network, a program that provides eligible companies access to tools and equipment to develop their digital health products.
“By investing in robust digital solutions that address the unique health challenges women face, our state can help close gender equity gaps, lower mortality rates, and improve health outcomes for women here in Massachusetts and around the world.” said Undersecretary Stanton. “We are proud of the work MeHI is doing to spotlight this critical issue and address its root causes.”
“I was honored to participate in the launch to help develop targeted solutions for the challenges facing Women+ health,” said Senator Friedman. “Since its inception, MeHI has been at the forefront of addressing disparities in our healthcare system in the Commonwealth. I look forward to seeing the final products of this digital health challenge and the innovative solutions that we can explore to improve healthcare outcomes and address the equity issues women+ face in the healthcare system.”
Funding for digital health solutions for women+ accounted for only 13 percent of all digital health funding in the U.S. in 2022, according to SOURCE, and the U.S. continues to battle the worst maternal mortality rate among high-income countries. The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has reported that severe maternal mortality has nearly doubled over the past decade, a startling statistic that digital technologies could address by increasing physical well-being as well as access to mental, behavioral, cognitive, social, and educational resources for Women+.
“Our shared awareness of the health issues facing women+ communities compels us to seek and invest in transformative solutions,” said Keely Benson, Director of MeHI, the organizer of the Challenge. “We have been encouraged by the enthusiasm digital health leaders have demonstrated to tackle pressing health inequities, especially those that disproportionately impact women of color, transwomen, and non-binary women. And we understand that technology can be an important way to overcome these problems and keep women+ healthy.”
At the launch, a panel discussion was held on "How Digital Health Can Improve Maternal Health Outcomes," and led by a group of experts and thought leaders from the public and private sector, including Dr. Hafsatou Diop, Director of Maternal and Child Health Research and Analysis Division at the Department of Public Health, Karen Tseng a Senior Advisor at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services and Andrea Ippolito, CEO and Founder, of SimpliFed which provides virtual support for women who breastfeed, including prenatal education, access to breast pumps, and peer support groups. The discussion focused on how we can leverage technology to connect women to the products and services they need to solve various challenges with the ultimate goal of advancing health equity.
"SimpliFed was honored to be part of MassTech's Women’s Health Challenge at the State House where Massachusetts continues to be a pioneer in tackling the maternal mortality crisis plaguing this nation.” said Andrea Ippolito, CEO and Founder, of SimpliFed. “Now more than ever, families need access to insurance-covered maternal healthcare services such as lactation support, considering the US is the most dangerous place among developed nations to deliver a baby. The time is now to improve access to solutions, and Massachusetts is taking the lead on this front by bringing together experts and innovators to collaborate and solve these issues.”
Following the panel discussion, attendees met with members of the Digital Health Sandbox Network and explored potential opportunities to collaborate with Research and Development hubs across the state. Companies who previously competed in MeHI’s Digital Health Challenges were also in attendance to help provide additional guidance and support to companies looking to compete in this space.
Massachusetts established the Digital Health Sandbox Program in 2019 with the goal of boosting digital innovation in various health sectors by providing the private sector with access to cutting-edge test centers across Massachusetts. These test centers enable participating companies to improve their research and development cycle and enhance their product development efforts. The Program is overseen by MeHI and advised by an Independent Steering Committee that consists of leading healthcare technology executives in Massachusetts.
The Challenge will culminate in a pitch competition where the top three companies will compete for $50,000 each in funding.
Organizations have until December 1 to submit their proposals to the “Innovations to Support Women+ Health Challenge,” which will consider how their digital health solutions are targeting and supporting the unique needs of underserved populations, including addressing racial inequities, geographic limitations, accessibility concerns, broadband access, and digital literacy, among others.
- Connecting with key partners in the Massachusetts digital health ecosystem through the Introduction to the Massachusetts Ecosystem Speaker Series
- Understand the digital health funding landscape in Massachusetts
- Learn about and connect with leaders in related, key industries in Massachusetts
- Hear from experts about how to navigate and work with health systems and payers
- Gain an understanding of other programs and resources in Massachusetts that are aimed at supporting digital health startups
- Accelerate time from R&D to production
- Benefit from cohort learning
- Work with experts to assess your testing needs
- Meet with Sandboxes to understand the research and testing opportunities
- Partner with a Sandbox to scope a detailed validation project
- Gain Funding Access
- $50,000 in Sandbox funding each for the top three companies
- Everyone will be prepared for investor meetings
Critical areas of concern include reproductive health and menopause, maternal health, and cancer and cardiovascular health. These challenge areas may be addressed by the following technologies, but all applicants with relevant solutions are encouraged to apply:
- Remote monitoring devices
- Wearable tech solutions
- Ambient intelligence
- Mental and behavioral health platforms
- Telehealth solutions
- Care coordination tools
- Assistive technology devices
- VR / AR tools
- Mobile applications
- Virtual programming and services
About the Massachusetts eHealth Institute (MeHI)
The mission of the Massachusetts eHealth Institute (MeHI) is to promote Health IT innovation, technology and competitiveness to improve the safety, quality and efficiency of health care across the Commonwealth. MeHI helps to spearhead The Massachusetts Digital Health Initiative, or Mass Digital Health, a comprehensive public-private partnership working to establish Massachusetts as a leading ecosystem for digital health innovation, driving economic impact and improving healthcare costs and quality. Learn more about the initiative at https://massdigitalhealth.org/.