Responding to the Call for Better Health Information


How one company is using recent research to better serve 1.5M underserved patients.

Cecilia Corral

5 min read

Earlier this year, Oliver Wyman and Altarum Institute, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), completed a major, multi-disciplinary study of the consumer health-information space. The research examined the barriers vulnerable consumers encounter in accessing and using health information, and also explored how the marketplace views and prioritizes the health information needs of those consumers.

Here, Cecilia Coral, co-founder and VP of product at CareMessage, a non-profit working to make underserved populations healthier, discusses their mission and how they've responded to the Oliver Wyman/Altarum Institute research by implemented new programs to better serve their mission.

What is CareMessage and its mission?

CareMessage is a non-profit health technology organization focused on using mobile technology to make underserved populations healthier. We primarily use text messaging to deliver health information, reminders, and disease self-management education to over 1.5 million underserved patients in 37 states across the United States.

Our health education programs focus on delivering actionable, low literacy, and culturally-tailored health information in English and Spanish. We put a strong emphasis on holistic health and tackling health disparities for patients of various racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and immigrant backgrounds.

Which of the findings from the RWJF research study were most surprising?

The findings in the research study aligned closely with qualitative feedback our team has received over the last few years. However, this was the first time we saw a correlation between provider disrespect and adherence. We know there are many ways underserved patients can feel disrespected by their providers, and would be curious to dive deeper into understanding the most frequent disrespectful interactions between patients and providers.

Information on caregiver support was another interesting area we’d be interested in exploring further. In the current healthcare system, there is no reimbursement model to purchase or support caregiver tools. Through our own findings, we also know caregivers play an important part in patient adherence to medical treatments as well as appointment attendance. As the landscape evolves, it will be interesting to see how intentional healthcare organizations become in involving caregivers as part of the care team.

How is your team taking the RWJF findings and implementing them at CareMessage?

With the assistance of a generous grant from the William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation received last year, CareMessage has built out an Emerging Technologies team that acts as an internal R&D arm to help test new product ideas. Following our review of some of the findings highlighted in the report, we were able to prioritize a few of the problem areas in our roadmap to explore potential solutions.

Next quarter, we will be exploring how we may offer better support to caregivers. We have found time and time again that there are many levels to being a caregiver, and often times we may see an adult female patient with type 2 diabetes who prioritizes their caregiver responsibilities for others, their children or husband, over their own needs. Exploring the many angles to caregiving may give us some insights into how being a caregiver can fit in the current healthcare models.

If there was one thing you could change about the healthcare information landscape (resource being no object) what would that be and why?

As someone who grew up in a Spanish-speaking household and spent most of her childhood in Mexico, I wish more healthcare solutions were designed with underserved populations in mind. It is incredibly difficult to find culturally-appropriate resources in Spanish, and even when available, most healthcare products are poorly translated. Often, I also see companies trying to adapt an existing solution by translating it directly to Spanish, launching an “underserved” version of their product, or only involving underserved populations as test users. Although I am glad to see more people thinking about this, it is simply not enough.

The more we involve underserved populations in designing their own solutions, the better we will be able to help address their problems. I’d encourage anyone building solutions for the underserved to make sure you have people from these communities as members of your product development teams. Only then will you ensure solutions for the underserved will not be an afterthought.

  • Cecilia Corral