Startup spun out from Google parent Alphabet looks to address health disparities

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America’s cities continue to have disproportionately poor health outcomes. However, a new healthcare start-up spun out from Google parent Alphabet is looking to integrating healthcare, social services and technology to better serve the medical needs of urban populations.

In early 2018, Cityblock is planning to open its first prototype clinics in New York, looking to use technology to offer community-based care tailored to improve outcomes and engage patients in a variety of ways.

The service will run on a custom-built care facilitation platform called Commons, which is touted as an easy-to-use, integrated platform for smartphones, tablets and computers. It is designed to enable care teams to understand the health needs communities they reside in while building and maintaining relationships at scale.

Cityblock, which says its mission is to “radically improve the health of urban communities, one block at a time,” was spun out this month by Sidewalk Labs, the urban innovation group of Alphabet.

Providing high-value, readily available personalized health services to Medicaid and lower-income Medicare beneficiaries in underserved urban centers are the areas of focus for Cityblock, which will partner with community-based organizations, payers, providers, and local leaders.

“By shifting the care balance toward prevention and community support, we know we can make populations healthier,” the company contends on its website. “Key to making this happen will be creating a new culture of care delivery that returns the patient to the center of the health system.”

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Early next year, Cityblock is planning to launch its first clinics—called Neighborhood Health Hubs—in New York and then expand to other cities, where members can drop in to connect with a care team, access services or “simply grab a cup of coffee.”

Cityblock co-founder and CEO Iyah Romm, who previously served as chief transformation officer for Commonwealth Care Alliance in Massachusetts, says it’s too early to talk about specifics of the company’s plan. “Because we’re just getting started, we’ll be staying heads down for now,” Romm said in response to a query.

However, in an October 1 blog post, Romm announced the launch of Cityblock and laid out his company’s vision.

“There are millions of Americans with unmet medical and social needs today,” wrote Romm. “Changes in federal and state policy have triggered a seismic shift in healthcare financing, requiring providers to develop new capabilities in order to deliver community-based, high-value care. At Cityblock, we aspire to be at the leading edge of arming the mainstream healthcare system with new tools and a new approach to caring for underserved urban populations.”

According to Romm, Commons, as a custom-built care facilitation platform, will enable Cityblock to achieve its goals by bringing together clinical and claims data, enabling members and their care teams to communicate and work together on healthcare goals.

“Harnessing the power of technology, with a heavy focus on design, will enable us to codify workflow, enhance communication, and over time, achieve scale,” he adds, noting that they will use their “custom-built technology to enhance strong relationships between members and care teams.”

Cityblock says they will provide flexible care that is available in people’s homes through house calls and in their communities through its Neighborhood Health Hubs, as well as remotely via video app or telephone.

Among other challenges, Romm contends that today’s healthcare system is plagued by fragmented data and that despite the fact that billions of dollars have been invested in digital health these tools were primarily designed for data collection and billing , without obvious clinical benefit at the point of care.

“To make cities healthy, we need a system in which value is rewarded over volume, provider-patient relationships are meaningful and lasting, and the use of technology decreases costs instead of raising them,” he concludes. “It is imperative that we fundamentally overhaul the system and redouble our efforts to design, test, and deploy impactful care delivery models and digital products.”

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