Digital health can serve the safety net, but only if done right

Still, it’s important to understand the needs of safety-net populations, according to a new report from the California HealthCare Foundation.

By Neil Versel, Med City News February 10, 2016

Digital health has tremendous potential to increase access to care, improve outcomes and promote healthy lifestyles among low-income Americans, but it’s important to understand the needs of safety-net populations, according to a new report from the California HealthCare Foundation.

“[For] developers to succeed, they must offer products and programs that fit the needs of safety-net consumers in ways that are useful, accessible and comfortable for them,” said the report, written by health economist Jane Sarasohn-Kahn.

People in the safety net are at higher risk of chronic diseases than those in the general population and are more likely to have multiple chronic conditions, Sarasohn-Kahn noted. They don’t fit the model of in-person care during normal business hours, but they also might lack home broadband Internet and have limited English skills.

That’s where mobile phones come in. Low-income people who do own smartphones often rely on their mobile devices as their primary source of Internet access. Even people without smartphones are easily reachable by text message.

Safety-net patients have responded to e-mail, patient portals and other ideas that improve communications, particularly in their native languages. Apps that combine healthcare and social services or that gives patients a “trusted human being” on the other end have potential in this area as well, the report said. So does passive data collection through wearables and smart home medical devices.

Safety-net care providers and Medicaid managed care plans are noticing. Sarasohn-Kahn listed a series of apps and platforms that have proven their worth in this sector, including HealthCrowd, Text4Baby, Healthify, Omada Health, Proteus Digital Health and the University of New Mexico’s Project ECHO. Even ride-share services like Uber and Lyft have helped connect low-income people to healthcare.

“The safety net, under the new value-based payment environment, can be a valuable launching ground to prove the worth of quality-enhancing, cost-reducing technologies,” Sarasohn-Kahn wrote.

But the report also cautioned against “shiny new things,” citing Aman Bhandari, Vice President Data Science, Vertex Pharmaceuticals. “The new sexy is scaling what can work,” Bhandari said. “What if Google worked with the American Public Health Association?” he wondered.

Source Med City News


Digitizing the Safety Net: Health Tech Opportunities for the Underserved, Jane Sarasohn-Kahn, MA, MHSA. California Health Care Foundation, February 2016

Also see
Michigan’s Health Care Safety Net: Catching the Uninsured When They Fall MI Blues
What do employers want from telehealth? Employee Benefits Network

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