Health  |  News & Politics

How a Local Doctor Is Using Tech to Try to Save Lives

Lisa Fitzpatrick wants to make medicine more approachable.

Lisa Fitzpatrick doing community outreach. Photograph by Grapevine.

Ten years ago, when physician Lisa Fitzpatrick was running an outpatient infectious-­disease treatment facility at United Medical Center in Southeast DC, one of her patients was so scared in the wake of a positive HIV test that he refused to return for treatment. So Fitzpatrick agreed to meet with him out on the street, and she discussed his diagnosis using plain language in a less frightening setting. He came back to the clinic the next day. “This happened in 48 hours: from this man learning about what he thought was a devastating diagnosis to gaining his trust and getting him in care,” Fitzpatrick says.

Experiences like that led her to establish Grapevine Health in 2019, a DC organization devoted to improving health literacy in underserved communities. “A lot of the magic of our content is about seeing that connection between [a patient and a] Black doctor who cares and is listening—and turning that into some tool that helps build trust and gets them engaged,” says Fitzpatrick.

Over her decades working in medicine, she has found that many patients—especially those on Medicaid—rely on friends and family for medical guidance more than on visits to doctors. Grapevine’s mission is to connect with patients through compelling online material. Residents of the communities Fitzpatrick works with “are not going to insurance-company or hospital websites,” she says. “They’re on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.” One example is Fitzpatrick’s “Dr. Lisa on the Street” videos, in which she stands on sidewalks and quizzes passersby about their medical knowledge.

Grapevine’s latest initiative is a text-messaging platform called HealthText that sends patients information and reminders using language that isn’t jargony or off-putting. The idea and execution have impressed the National Science Foundation, which recently awarded Grapevine a sizable grant to develop it. “I just want people to realize there’s much more here than creating cute little videos that communicate to people,” says Fitzpatrick. “We are trying to save lives.”

This article appears in the December 2023 issue of Washingtonian.

Hope Cartwright
Editorial Fellow