Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Insider: Dr. Garth Graham, President of the Aetna Foundation

A recent study from the Pew Research Center found that African Americans and Hispanics between the ages of 18-49 are more likely than other groups to gather health information from their phones.  As both groups experience disparities in health and health care services, the Aetna Foundation has recently announced more than $1.2 million in grants to support the use of digital health technology among vulnerable and minority populations.  The grants are part of a larger $4 million, three-year digital health commitment from the Foundation for the implementation and evaluation of technology innovations to help address public health concerns.

Our latest Insider is Dr. Garth Graham, cardiologist and president of the Aetna Foundation. As president, Dr. Graham is responsible for overseeing the Foundation’s philanthropic work, including its grant-making strategies to improve the health of people from underserved communities and increase their access to high-quality health care.  He shared with BlackGivesBack how the foundation is using mobile technology as a powerful equalizer for improving health education and access to care and his inspiration for pursuing a career in medicine.

What is digital health technology and how did it become a grant making priority for the Aetna Foundation?

Digital health technology includes mobile tools, online applications and technology platforms, such as chat rooms and email or text communications.  These technologies offer innovative ways to improve health outcomes, health care services and health research.  This became a focus for the Aetna Foundation as we noticed that individuals, in particular African Americans, Hispanics and other minorities, are utilizing digital technology more often as a way to educate themselves about health issues and tips for health prevention.

How can digital health technology help improve health in the African American community?

According to the Pew Research Center 1 in 3 cell phone owners have used their phone to look up health information.  At the Aetna Foundation we believe that with this level of usage, which is only increasing, digital health technology offers a powerful way to reach people where they are spending time – at school, at church, in their neighborhoods and on-the-go -- with real-time solutions that easily fit into their daily lives.  We are hoping through this initiative that we generate evidence, inform and educate people on how best to use various technologies to improve health outcomes in communities across the U.S.

In what other ways is the Foundation working to improve health education and access to care among vulnerable and minority populations?

The Aetna Foundation is also focused on two other key areas with an eye towards improving health education and access to care.  The first area is supporting access to a healthy diet and promoting physical activity as a means to be healthier in minority communities, and the second is supporting innovative approaches to improving access to care for minority communities.

What led you to a career in medicine and how do you give back to your community?

I am from Miami, Florida and was inspired by my mother, who was a nurse, to seek out a career in medicine.  My mother encouraged all of her children to take education very seriously and find ways to help improve the lives of others.  I chose a path in medicine because of her guidance as well as my deep interest and passion for science and medicine.  In terms of civic involvement, my family and I are very involved in work with our church.

How can readers help to close racial and ethnic disparities in health and health care services in their community?

There are two ways that we see readers making a difference; one is to work within their communities to generate awareness around health disparities.  The second way is to take care of your own health.  By monitoring your diet and getting 30 minutes of physical activity at least 5 times a week you are setting an example and taking an important first step in improving health in your community.

The grants from the Aetna Foundation will go to a diverse group of 23 organizations across 13 states, including health care organizations, regional hospitals and grassroots interventions all focused on easy-to-use ways to leverage existing technology to impact health.  Learn more about Aetna Foundation’s Digital Health Initiative and join the digital health conversation on Twitter with #digitalhealth.

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