The inequalities in the healthcare industry are widely documented, with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reporting earlier this year, for example, that there are massive racial disparities in pregnancy-related deaths. There is a lack of diversity in the medical field with only about 4% of U.S. doctors being black/African American and 5% being Hispanic; Latinos are currently one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the U.S., which makes the latter statistic particularly problematic. With these health disparities in mind, a new platform, Hued, was developed. Hued is a platform that “diversifies the patient/doctor connection by connecting patients (of color) with health and medical professionals (of color) that specifically understand their cultural, physical and mental needs.” Hued founder Kimberly Wilson sat down to discuss the platform, why it was started and how it will impact diversity and inclusion in the field of medicine.
Janice Gassam: What was the catalyst to you starting the platform?
Kimberly Wilson: So, I think racial barriers in the medical field have been long noted…my inspiration for creating Hued quite frankly came from a place of frustration…I was just frustrated with the lack of access…and opportunities specifically for black and brown people…when it came down to something as simple as taking care of our own health…when I talk about frustration, it was very personal to me…towards the end of 2017, I found out that I had fibroids. If you know anything about fibroids, you know that it’s kind of a black woman condition. Between 80-90% of black women will develop fibroids by the age of 50, but at varying stages. So, some women will go their entire lives and not have any symptoms…but if you’re like me, I had over 30 of them. The smallest was the size of a strawberry and the largest one was about the size of a grapefruit. After getting diagnosed, I spent early 2018…visiting different health care providers, four different OBGYNs here in New York City and I would love to say I had a great experience with each and everyone one of them, but I didn’t. Two of them were kind of dismissive of my pain, and the other two were kind of pushing me down the route of having a hysterectomy. I’m 31 now, at the time I was 30 and if you understand what it means for a doctor to tell a 30 year old woman that [they] recommended a hysterectomy, that would have prevented me from ever having children…one doctor told me, ‘just take Advil,’ and there were days I couldn’t get out of bed…the other one was just trying to push me down the route of having such a major and invasive surgery and it would have changed the course of my life. It wasn’t until the recommendation of a friend, that I found a black woman OBGYN, but she was at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, so I had to travel all the way to Baltimore just to find a black woman doctor. Her name was Dr. Khara Michelle Simpson and when I visited her, my experience was a complete 180…fast forward December 2018 that just passed, I ended up having an abdominal myomectomy with her and my uterus is still intact and she removed the majority of my fibroids. To think that I would have taken that opinion of that white male doctor…I would have changed my life. I just became really frustrated with my experience and just having to travel this far to find a culturally competent physician that really cared about my needs, and the stories that I heard from friends…I decided to do something about it and that’s how Hued was born.
Gassam: How does Hued work and how can it be used?
Wilson: Hued is a healthcare technology startup that allows patients to find and search reviews, and book appointments with black and Latino doctors through our web and mobile application. I’d like to say that it’s essentially a ‘for us, by us’ version of Zocdoc. But we’re much more than the app that we’re building and that we’re about to launch. We have been doing a buildup of providing education to communities of color in a number of different ways, through content creation. We just did a campaign in partnership with New York City where we highlighted and recognized black doctors through the past and present…we did a program around Black Maternal Health Week where we offered black women in New York City free fertility testing in partnership with Trellis Health. If you know anything about fertility testing, you know that it is not free! It could be upwards of $500 or more…we offered programming for black women to really talk about their maternal health, to talk about their fertility, to talk about other options, whether or not that’s egg freezing, and all of these things…we want to impact change in these communities, as it relates to overall healthcare.
On the platform, you’ll be able to search based off your insurance provider, your region, and also your specialty. So, if I’m looking for a black therapist in Harlem and I have Blue Cross Blue Shield, they’ll be able to search for providers that way.
Hued founder Kimberly Wilson KIMBERLY WILSON
Gassam: Do you think there is a lack of diversity amongst physicians?
Wilson: There is. I think…there’s also an exposure issue…it’s ironic because I live in New York City and I…didn’t have access to or couldn’t find physicians of color. Unfortunately, the numbers are getting lower and lower each year. So, in total, there’s about a million doctors, and black and Latino doctors make up about 13%. I think more needs to be done to increase the [number] of doctors within the profession. We obviously recognize that, if I’m in a larger market like New York or Atlanta or Houston…I’m also going to…have more opportunities and resources for doctors that look like me but with the increasing amount of telehealth services, we’re also focused on offering these services in communities that don’t have access to this. For instance, I have family that lives in Bismarck, North Dakota. My cousin…wouldn’t be able to find physicians that look like her in that particular market so we also want to increase exposure.
Gassam: What is the result of this lack of diversity among physicians?
Wilson: America needs more black doctors in general, just because [of] racial disparities in health and in healthcare providers persist in the U.S…but we do know that the healthcare profession has a serious problem with diversity…white doctors struggle to relate to patients and particularly African American men…healthcare as an institution is not unlike any other institution when we think about unconscious bias and racial disparities…patients have more mistrust for doctors…it’s kind of causing this tension and friction. Black people are getting sicker, we die earlier, and there’s a lot of factors that contribute to the increased morbidity and mortality of black people…black people are just not receiving the same quality of care.
Gassam: As far as closing the gap in this industry, you discussed exposure, and the importance of it to increase awareness of the different black and Latino doctors in one’s area. What are some other ways that this gap can be closed?
Wilson: There are organizations that are doing that work…you have the National Medical Association, you have the National Student Medical Association, Black Women’s Health Imperative, National Hispanic Medical Association…in terms of exposure, I think there are really some strong, diverse medical associations that are really doing the…work to create more awareness for careers within the profession. The work that we are doing is rooted in exposure…essentially Hued also serves a marketing function, by giving the doctors in these communities…by giving them access from a social media and a digital technology perspective to patients that would not have otherwise known about them…because the healthcare industry in general is older…there are fewer and fewer…doctors [of color]…we’re providing a marketing or exposure opportunity for these doctors.
Gassam: How do you envision Hued changing the world, as we know it?
Wilson: Right now, we’re focused on health education and creating more programs for our communities and the doctor matching platform…later we want to offer telehealth services for those who…don’t have access to diverse healthcare professionals. All of this essentially is to decrease disparities in healthcare. That is our number one mission, and we are doing really purpose-driven work…I don’t have a background in technology, I don’t have a background in healthcare. For myself, I really just…believe in the work…of what we’re trying to do and that’s bettering our communities and bettering the lives of people of color.
Janice Gassam – forbes