Like many healthcare provider organizations, Groups, a value-based care provider of opioid addiction treatment, had to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic overnight.
In order to keep members safe, the organization made the decision to close all 120 of its clinics across the country and transition to 100% virtual opioid use disorder treatment services. To accomplish this, Groups provided its members with a number of different digital health technologies that enabled them to continue their treatment virtually and do all of the form submissions, drug screens and insurance processes that are part of the Groups recovery program.
“Unfortunately, these technologies weren’t integrated and didn’t talk to each other or our electronic health record – meaning they couldn’t serve our members as effectively as we strive to,” said Michelle Cartier, vice president of product at Groups.
When Groups saw the gap in quality it was approaching with its previous technologies, it took a big step back to reevaluate its virtual treatment services.
“We held focus groups with our members and listened to what they wanted in a care experience – and more importantly, what they felt they were missing today,” Cartier recalled.
“We knew at a minimum we needed to: 1) Reduce friction in the onboarding experience; 2) Make care more accessible and consumable so that members can more easily engage with their counselor and in their group sessions; and 3) Build a direct integration with our EHR in order to reduce the administrative burden on our clinicians,” she said.
“Offering telehealth options no longer is just a ‘nice to have’ for providers like us. It’s now a necessity.”
Michelle Cartier, Groups
To accomplish these goals, the provider organization built the Groups mobile app to create what it describes as a welcoming, supportive and intuitive member experience – all powered by a unified and integrated platform.
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MEETING THE CHALLENGE
Groups converted all of its encounters (i.e. intake appointments, group meetings) to telehealth in March 2020 and rolled out a pilot of its proprietary mobile app in April 2021.
“At that time, we made our platform available in beta to a segment of our member base in Kentucky,” Cartier said. “The app enabled them to schedule their own welcome appointments, complete all the necessary pre-work directly within the app, attend their appointments via video, and then progress through treatment into group where they also had the capability to complete point-of-care toxicology screens, create and update a person-centered care plan, and render payment.”
Groups integrated with a variety of vendors including Zoom, Stripe, HelloSign and Redox.
“Unifying all of these technologies on one simple platform that integrates in real time with a clinician dashboard that feeds the EHR has made it easier for our members to initiate and receive life-saving treatment,” she reported.
“It also has made it easier for our care teams to have real-time visibility into each member’s recovery process, enabling them to customize member support to help them achieve lasting recovery from opioid addiction,” she added.
In April 2021 when it launched the Groups mobile app, the organization empowered prospective members to schedule their own appointments and gave them the flexibility to attend group sessions from wherever they are. As a result, member-scheduled intakes increased by 3-4 times compared with before the app was available.
“At the same time, we rolled this technology out to our existing member base, centralizing core components of their care in one cohesive place,” Cartier explained. “Today, 98% of our members have created accounts; and in the last week alone, 92% of our members logged into the app.
“In January 2022, we continued to enhance the Groups mobile app and enabled prospective members to easily complete the upfront requirements for joining our recovery program,” she continued. “This enabled us to reduce appointment times, allowed our care teams to serve more potential members, and accelerated the time from when a member first reaches out for help to when they start recovering.”
Today, 30% of Groups members live in a county where it does not have a physical location. Prior to the pandemic, this number was virtually 0%.
“Telehealth and the creation of our mobile app played a major role in achieving that,” she stated. “Considering that only one in five people struggling with opioid use disorder in the U.S. actually get treatment, we’re proud to have been able to increase access as a result of these efforts.
“Also, to date, between 65-75% of our insured members stay with our program for at least six months, compared with an industry average of 25-30%,” she added.
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
If there’s any silver lining to be found in the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that it was the catalyst the healthcare industry needed to get serious about digital innovation, Cartier said.
“While we always have provided a superior member experience in our clinics, we felt we had less control over the experience in a remote world,” she explained. “When we first were thinking about developing the mobile app, we were focused on retaining the quality of the experience that Groups’ members have come to expect and decided we needed to control the technology to ensure it was compatible with our brand.
“Offering telehealth options no longer is just a ‘nice to have’ for providers like us,” she continued. “It’s now a necessity. We’ve heard some providers say their populations won’t use it or can’t use it today due to lack of broadband access or lack of a device. But consider this – 70% of our members are on Medicaid today. Yet 98% have created accounts for the mobile app.”
Groups also found that in 2021, nearly 90% accessed their group therapy sessions via a smartphone. Groups believes barriers to telehealth may be overstated at times, yet to accommodate all members, the organization has tablets at all of its offices for those who lack the necessary technology.
“But our biggest piece of advice is listening,” Cartier said. “Here are a couple of things we heard from members when we first showed them the app. ‘You live in such a disorganized way through addiction that it’s refreshing to have some things a little simpler.’ And, ‘I think this app is great. The best thing about Groups is they are ready to help people right away.’”
Finally, Groups knows through surveys that some members still prefer in-person treatment over an all-telehealth model.
“For those members, we will continue to meet them where they are and provide treatment at our more than 120 brick-and-mortar locations,” Cartier concluded. “For them, the app serves as a complement to in-person care, rather than a primary method for members to engage with.”
Email the writer: [email protected]
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