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Tessie Guillermo on Low Health Literacy & Innovation at Health 2.0


Tessie Guillermo has been involved in technology adoption since 1987.

We’ll be at the Health 2.0 fall conference next week and we hope we’ll see you there. But if you can’t make it, we’ll give you the next best thing: a conversation with Tessie Guillermo, president and CEO of ZeroDivide. ZeroDivide provides technology adoption and field-building consulting services for many companies, and Tessie feels passionate about directing this work specifically in the direction of healthcare. She’ll be speaking at the conference, but she gave us a preview of her talk.

How did you get end up working in the healthcare, technology and innovation sector?

In college, I was working as a billing clerk in a community health center in Oakland. 97 percent of clients were immigrants who didn’t speak English. Back then, we manually imported patient information. But a few years later, we became one of the first community health centers to automate patient information. Because of this experience, I was fascinated by technology data and using technology to understand patients. That propelled me into the world of the underserved and the world of technology.

What are the most exciting health-oriented initiatives/ consulting projects you’re currently working on at ZeroDivide?

We’re really excited about addressing the social detriments that affect health. We’re working with low income communities to see how where they live and work affects their overall health. Recently, we’ve been working with two text messaging programs called Text for Wellness and Mobile Fitness. Both programs are founded through the Aetna foundation and focus on developing messages that help people find resources. These include fitness class, farmer’s markets and social support for heart health. We’ve been developing the content for these messages.

What’s really special about this program is that it’s two-way messaging. In the past, text message programs have only relayed information to users. Now, those users can interact with us and we can focus on prevention by encouraging a healthier diet and more exercise.

Where do you think technology holds the biggest promise for changing our often chaotic healthcare system?

If you look at the long term, the promise is in wearables and technology. It will always be in things that consumers can buy. What’s important for us to understand, though, is that we need to work on health literacy in underserved populations to help prevention and treatment long-term. Currently, there is not enough preventative treatment. We need people to follow medication instructions and understand their medical conditions. We need to know how they are understanding their health needs.

I think that the tools and technology that help promote health literacy will make the difference. The future lies in the ability of a patient to understand how to transmit the appropriate data to providers. This will improve health outcomes, decrease costs, and help patients and providers engage together. Beyond that, we are looking to big data and data analytics. These resources will allow us to share information across communities.

What do you plan to discuss during the Zero Divide session at Health 2.0’s fall conference next week?

Our session this year will happen in three parts. First, we’re having an initial startup demonstration to show patient engagement. Then we’ll move to a panel discussion to have experts on the stage talk about designing patient engagement products for underserved populations. This panel will have someone speaking about the primary care perspective, someone speaking about the integration of social services into healthcare and how this will shape future care and someone speaking about the economic health perspective.

There will be the opportunity to talk about how diseases affect underserved populations and how this in turn affects technology. It will be a very patient-centric perspective across the panel. We’re ending the session with a workshop where people can answer questions. Once they’ve heard from experts and see products, this provides an opportunity for the audience to think through how they would co-design products. We’ll ask them to think about how they would use technology to involve patients in building a digital health product. To wrap up, there will be two minute pitches for groups to talk about their ideas for developing a product.

Why should people plan to attend your session?

One of the things we are very aware of is how there is very little understanding of the ways we can penetrate low health literacy populations. These are people who are low-income, non-English speaking, disabled, and they compromise a large group of the underserved population. Their ability to understand and engage with providers will make a difference in what we can achieve in healthcare.

We hope our workshop will drill down into the profiles of medically underserved patients. What are the kinds of tools we can use to help patients understand their conditions? These are the questions we want answered so we can develop these tools.

There is a role for everyone in this workshop from technology development to design to user interface issues that providers face. We aren’t designing for one audience but for all of them.

This interview is part of our fall series on women in medtech. Check back in for weekly interviews with women in the medical technology field. Do you know someone who’d be a good fit for this series? Let us know – email jenni@medtechboston.com. 

Soniya Shah

Soniya Shah

    Soniya Shah is an on-staff contributing writer at MedTech Boston. She's a senior at Carnegie Mellon University pursuing a BS in technical writing. She has experience as a ghost writer and medical writer, and in developing software documentation.

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