iMedicalApps was at Health 2.0′s 7th Annual Convention, in Silicon Valley.

A panel of physicians and technology experts asserted at Health 2.0′s Open Roundtable on the Underserved that low-income and vulnerable underserved populations are quickly becoming important consumers of healthcare information technology. Those thinking of creating the next big app should consider the underserved market.

“Now is the time to partner with safety net health systems,” says Urmimala Sarkar, MD MPH, (@UrmimalaSarkar‎) professor at theUniversity of California, San Francisco, who chaired the panel.

Sarkar explains that the acceleration of health IT spurred by HITECH in 2009 incentivizes companies to do so. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2014 will increase healthcare options for lower-income populations.

The underserved are also increasing demand for health IT options. Dr. Sarkar, a professor of Internal Medicine at UCSF, has found that 60% of San Francisco’s safety net clinic patients used e-mail and 71% were interested in electronic communication. As many as 19% even used e-mail informally with their providers.

The underserved face significant barriers with Internet technologies, says Sarkar. Health literacy can be a challenge for patients not proficient in speaking English, for instance. Additionally, there can be mistrust, privacy concerns, and cultural barriers that can lead to a lack of engagement. These can be solved, Sarkar notes, with a user-centered design to involve diverse patients and a participatory design to involve them at early stages.

“Everyone likes clear and simple explanations. If you take information and make it understandable to people with limited health literacy, you will make everyone happy,” noting that all users — not just the underserved — benefit.

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