Press Release

New pilot program applies design thinking to help solve disparities in telehealth access

August 23, 2022
Black father and daughter communicating with a doctor via video call from home during COVID-19 pandemic. Focus is on girl.

The AAMC awarded a 2022 Telehealth Equity Catalyst (TEC) Pilot Grant to train resident physicians from USC to incorporate person-centered, design-based approaches to help close the digital divide. (Photo iStock)

One of the biggest challenges of health care and healing is to ensure patients have the proper access to the care that they need. Over the past two years, that challenge has become ever more present.

“Communities across the country face many barriers to accessing and receiving health care,” said Rosha McCoy, Acting Chief Health Care Officer of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC). “While the growth of telehealth and health technology can mitigate some of those barriers and improve access, it also risks exacerbating current disparities in care.”

That’s the inspiration behind a new pilot program at Keck School of Medicine and LAC+USC Medical Center. The AAMC awarded a 2022 Telehealth Equity Catalyst (TEC) Pilot Grant to train resident physicians from USC to incorporate person-centered, design-based approaches to help close the digital divide.

“Telehealth is valuable, both from a patient perspective and a public health perspective,” said Jin Sol Lee, MD, MPH, assistant professor of clinical medicine at Keck School of Medicine of USC and principal investigator & lead curricular design for the TEC pilot program. “Telehealth can improve access to care, efficiencies in care, and patient experience.”

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest barriers to adoption of telehealth was that health care providers were not receiving adequate reimbursement for remote care compared to in-person care. But during the pandemic, this changed, and adoption of telehealth subsequently skyrocketed.  

“We found during the COVID-19 pandemic, some of our most vulnerable communities were forced into remote care environments without ensuring that these groups were able to access this care,” Lee said. “Underserved communities tend to lack access to durable broadband infrastructure, affordable technology-enabled devices, and access to adequate training in digital literacy to be able to use those digital tools effectively.”

With this pilot program, internal medicine residents at USC will be able to participate in a yearlong, interdisciplinary medical education elective course intended to increase knowledge of telehealth disparities. Working with LAC+USC leadership and patients from vulnerable communities, they will then learn to apply creative problem-solving skills to address these disparities using applied design thinking methodologies. Additionally, design and engineering students from two leading institutions, the ArtCenter College of Design and USC’s Health Systems Management Engineering School, will be invited to collaborate with the resident physicians in a series of interactive design thinking workshops.

“The interdisciplinary nature of this program is what brings us the most joy in this collaborative effort,” Lee said. “By approaching problems starting with the perspective of the people experiencing the problem (which is a core principle of design thinking), the students will not only arrive at unexpected answers, but also develop solutions that will more likely be embraced by their patients and the healthcare systems that care for them. These different groups will work together to identify some of the existing pain points and reframe them in innovative ways, thereby improving telehealth and ultimately health care.”

This applied-design thinking methodology will also come in handy when it comes to many complex problems in the medical field with similar unanswered questions. For example, how can we best address the problem of medication non-adherence? COVID-19 vaccination uptake? Reducing hospital readmissions for high utilizers of the healthcare system?

“Design thinking is a methods-based approach to equip clinicians with the tactful skills needed to become effective physician leaders that will not only provide high quality medical care, but also learn to ensure that our healthcare systems are accountable for how we deliver that care effectively and mindfully for the patients and communities we serve,” Lee said. “With this pilot, we hope to expose the residents to this new process and inspire them with the confidence and skillsets to approach these issues moving forward within their future careers.”

“We also want to thank our project mentors, collaborators, and AAMC for their generous support and partnership for this unique opportunity, which without them would not be possible.” Lee said.

Project Team & Collaborators: 

Dr. Jin Sol Lee – Assistant Professor of Clinical Medicine (Clinician Educator) at USC – Principal Investigator & Lead Curricular Design  
Dr. Anand Ganapathy – USC Vascular Surgery Resident Physician – Co-Curricular Design
Dr. Matthew Zabrowski – Chief Resident USC Internal Medicine Residency – Project Collaborator
Dr. Eric Hsieh – Program Director USC Internal Medicine Residency Program – Project Mentor
Dr. Sonali Saluja – Director of the Gehr Center for Health Systems Science and Innovation USC – Project Mentor
Jeff Higashi – Vice President Institutional Advancement & AlumNetwork ArtCenter College of Design – Project Mentor
Dr. Hugh Gordon – Chief Medical Information Officer LAC+USC Medical Center – Project Mentor
Dr. Chase Coffey – Chief Quality Officer LAC+USC Medical Center – Project Mentor
Dr. Josh Banerjee – Associate Medical Director for Transitions of Care LAC+USC Medical Center – Project Mentor
Dr. David Belson – Program Director, M.S. in Health Systems Management Engineering at USC – Project Mentor
Dr. Shinyi Wu – Associate Professor of Social Work and Industrial & Systems Engineering at USC – Project Mentor
Dr. David Armstrong – Director, USC Center to Stream Health in Place (C2SHIP) – Project Mentor

Keck School of Medicine and LAC+USC Medical Center residents interested in enrolling in the pilot program can contact jinsol.lee@med.usc.edu for more information.