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In the United States, African American patients reporting pain are 22% less likely to receive the necessary medication from their doctors. Kistein Monkhouse witnessed this firsthand working as a nursing assistant in New York Presbyterian Hospital, an experience that inspired the 2017 launch of Patient Orator as a digital health media outlet to amplify the voices of underserved patients and to ensure everyone receives access to quality care — regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or ZIP code.
It was a good first step, but Monkhouse’s own experience as a patient made her realize that even more must be done.
“I lived with chronic pelvic pain for three years, and I was seeing six different specialists, including an emergency room visit in which I was discharged without any pain medication,” says Monkhouse, who finally received a diagnosis from a seventh doctor in 2018. “I was ignored by clinicians and physicians because of the color of my skin.”
In response, Monkhouse pivoted Patient Orator to become a digital health app that empowers chronically ill patients with effective communication tools and healthcare resources. The HIPPA-compliant app allows patients to create a profile to document symptoms securely with a medical questionnaire and share their patient profile and medical documents remotely.
Why this format? Monkhouse concluded she wasn’t getting the quality of care she needed because different healthcare systems don’t speak to each other. The app addresses that problem by providing a single record for patient-generated data that can be used by doctors, nurses, and other members of the patient’s care team to better understand the medical complaint. “The app helps patients communicate with their medical health systems more effectively, so when they’re in healthcare encounters, they can receive the best care they possibly can,” Monkhouse explains.
While the app is still in private beta, Patient Orator is accessible to providers and community health organizations interested in testing it with their patient population. It’s a huge success story for Monkhouse, who has no technical background in software development.
“My advice to non-technical founders in terms of hiring developers is to interview the prospective developer and ask for a list of previous customers if it is not listed on their website,” she says. “Take the time to talk to their previous customers to learn about their experience working with them.”
Monkhouse also created Humanizing Health Care, a narrative-driven documentary about medical experiences in the United States. This new skillset not only enhances the storytelling elements of the app but has helped overcome one of the biggest challenges during COVID-19: funding.
“The way we financed the app is by partnering with different healthcare companies to create content for them to help their conferences,” Monkhouse says. She has produced several informational videos interviewing top healthcare experts for Charles Barkley Foundation’s SynsordMed Initiative and SOS Council, and has partnered with WeGoHealth at a number of their events including EyeForPharma 2019 and HLTH2019.
The pandemic has obviously put a pause on those partnership opportunities, but Patient Orator has otherwise been completely bootstrapped by Monkhouse, who has not won any pitch competitions or received any grants until a recent prize from the Community Service Society of New York. Development is still in progress.
COVID-19 might even present an opportunity for the fledgling app. After all, one of the biggest issues right now is people accurately monitoring and documenting their symptoms, and Patient Orator can bridge that gap.
“What we have decided to do in terms of pivoting is going direct-to-consumer, meaning bringing our app directly to the people that need it while avoiding the red tape of the healthcare and provider systems,” says Monkhouse. “Our long-term goal, past this initial phase, is to partner with bigger systems, because essentially this app should be free, should be provided to patients, and should be embedded as a resource in healthcare provider systems.”
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