By Patricia Salber

Pat Salber, MD, MBA, Host of The Doctor Weighs In and CEO Health Tech Hatch

The Verizon Foundation is more than 20 years old, but is relatively new to large scale health care philanthropy.  Today, December 4, 2012, the Foundation is announcing a new program to reduce health care disparities, improve quality and access to care in diverse communities across the country.

The company will invest almost $13 million, via non-profit partnerships, through grants, in-kind technology solutions and technical support to their non-profit partners.  The goal is to measurably improve patient self-management of chronic disease, access to care and clinical quality for children, women and seniors.

I spoke with Rose Stuckey Kirk, the President of the Foundation about the program.  She said, “We want to change the way care is delivered, we want to solve big issues, such as improving the quality across the board.  And, we want to leverage our technology to accomplish this.”

Rose Stuckey Kirk, President of the Verizon Foundation

To that end, the Foundation is giving their technology solutions, either their mHealth Solution or their secure unified messaging platform, to select non-profits that have demonstrated they have in-house technical capability.  But they are also providing technical support to help the partners get started.  Further, the non-profits can apply for grants (money) to cover operating as well as program costs.  This is important – they are not just giving money for programs, but are also willing to support the organizations’ operations.  Having run a non-profit myself, I appreciate this comprehensive approach.

“Through our philanthropy and corporate giving, we seek to share our success in technology in underserved communities…we are working with our partner organizations to enhance patient care models and empower disease education and management through technology” Kirk said in the press release announcing the Foundation’s program.

The initial partners in this program are:

According to Kirk, these organizations were chosen because they can work across many geographies – they have a broad reach – and they have the capacity to manage the technology solution as well as report on metrics.  Every grantee has a series of metrics they have to report including metrics related to patient care, patient engagement, and cost savings.  The Foundation wants to demonstrate the impact its giving is having.  Their hope is to show a return on investment for society as a whole – a great aspiration.

When I asked if there was a synergy between the Foundation’s health care philanthropy and the for-profit side of the business – after all, showing good results as a result of non-profits using Verizon technology would certain play favorably when trying to sell product, Kirk said, “We are a 501c3.  Helping the company to sell [product] is not our mission.  We don’t pass the results of our work back across the aisle [to the business folks].  They can find our results in the public space [if they need them].”

According to Kirk, the short term goals of the effort are to touch a lot of patients and practitioners across many geographies.  They are aiming for ~200,000 initially.  The midterm goals are to learn what is working, what is happening on the ground, and what is the level of patient engagement.  Long term they hope to improve the efficiency and lower the cost of care.

Peter Tippit, MD, PhD, VP and CMO of Verizon (an inventor of Norton Antivirus) keynoting at mHealth Summit notes that Verizon has a tradition called Shared Success.  He said it means “doing the things in society that actually drive the kinds of change that we know will help all of us.”  He points to the work of the Verizon Foundation as an example of putting the Shared Success idea into practice.

I look forward to following the work of the Foundation and wish them every success.  I, for one, am very glad that Big Telecom is bringing Big Technologic solutions to the health care table.  Perhaps, this will be finally facilitate the transformation of an industry that so badly needs it.