Like many healthcare provider organizations, Groups, a values-based opioid addiction treatment provider, had to respond overnight to the COVID-19 pandemic.
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 achieve this, Groups made a range of different digital health technologies available to its members, allowing them to continue their treatment virtually and complete all of the form submissions, medication testing and insurance processes that are part of Groups’ recovery program.
“Unfortunately, these technologies weren’t integrated and didn’t communicate with each other or with our electronic medical record – meaning they couldn’t serve our members as effectively as we would like,” said Michelle Cartier, vice president of product at Groups.
Recognizing the quality gap it was approaching with its earlier technologies, Groups took a big step back to re-evaluate its virtual treatment services.
“We held focus groups with our members and listened to what they wanted from a caregiving experience—and more importantly, what they felt they are missing today,” Cartier recalls.
“We knew we had to do at least the following: 1) reduce friction in the onboarding experience; 2) Make caregiving more accessible and consumable so members can more easily connect with their counselor and in their group sessions; and 3) Build direct integration with our EHR to reduce the administrative burden on our doctors,” she said.
“Offering telemedicine options is no longer just a ‘nice to have’ for providers like us, it’s a necessity.”
Michelle Cartier, groups
To achieve these goals, the provider organization developed the Groups mobile app to create what it describes as a welcoming, supportive, and intuitive member experience—all supported by a unified and integrated platform.
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TO ACCEPT THE CHALLENGE
Groups transitioned all of its encounters (i.e. intake appointments, group meetings) to telemedicine in March 2020 and piloted its proprietary mobile app in April 2021.
“At the time, we beta-released our platform to a portion of our membership base in Kentucky,” Cartier said. “The app allowed them to plan their own welcome appointments, do all the necessary preliminary work right in the app, attend their appointments via video, and then walk through the treatment to the group, where they also had the opportunity to point-of- Care complete toxicology screenings, create and update a person-centered care plan, and make payment.”
Groups integrated with a variety of providers including Zoom, Stripe, HelloSign and Redox.
“Bringing all of these technologies together on a simple platform that integrates with a real-time clinical dashboard that feeds the EHR has made it easier for our members to initiate and receive life-saving treatments,” she said.
“It has also made it easier for our care teams to have real-time visibility into each member’s recovery process, allowing them to customize member support to help them achieve lasting recovery from opioid addiction,” she added.
With the launch of the Groups mobile app in April 2021, the organization allowed prospective members to schedule their own appointments and gave them the flexibility to join group sessions from anywhere. As a result, members’ projected earnings increased by 3x to 4x compared to before the app was available.
“At the same time, we’ve extended this technology to our existing member base and centralized the core components of their care in one cohesive place,” Cartier said. “Today, 98% of our members have created accounts; and in the last week alone, 92% of our members have logged into the app.
“In January 2022, we continued to enhance the Groups mobile app, allowing prospective members to easily complete the pre-requisites to join our recovery program,” she continued. “By doing this, we’ve reduced appointment times, enabled our care teams to see more prospective members, and reduced the time from a member’s first call for help to the beginning of their recovery.”
Today, 30% of group members live in a county where there is no physical location. Before the pandemic, that number was practically 0%.
“Telemedicine and the development of our mobile app have played an important role in this,” she explained. “Considering that only one in five people struggling with an opioid use disorder actually receive treatment in the US, we are proud that we have been able to increase access as a result of these efforts.
“Additionally, to date, between 65% and 75% of our insured members remain with our program for at least six months, compared to an industry average of 25% to 30%,” she added.
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
If there’s a silver lining to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that it’s been the catalyst the healthcare industry needed to get serious about digital innovation, Cartier said.
“While we’ve always provided a great member experience at our clinics, we felt we had less control over the experience in a remote world,” she explained. “When we first thought about developing the mobile app, we focused on maintaining the quality of experience that Groups members have come to expect and decided we needed to control the technology to ensure it would align with our brand is compatible.
“Offering telemedicine options is no longer just a ‘nice to have’ for providers like us,” she continued. “It’s a necessity now. We have heard some providers say their population will not use it or cannot use it today due to lack of broadband access or equipment. But consider this – 70% of our members are on Medicaid today. Still, 98% created accounts for the mobile app.”
Groups also found that in 2021, nearly 90% accessed their group therapy sessions via a smartphone. Groups believes that the barriers to telemedicine can sometimes be overstated, but to accommodate all members, the organization has tablets in all of its offices for those who lack the necessary technology.
“But our greatest advice is to listen,” Cartier said. “Here are a few things we heard from members when we first showed them the app. “Your life is so disorganized due to addiction that it’s refreshing to have some things a little easier.” And: “I think this app is great. The best thing about Google Groups is that they’re ready to help people right away.’”
Finally, Groups knows through surveys that some members still prefer in-person treatment over a purely telemedicine model.
“For these members, we will continue to meet them where they are and provide treatment at our more than 120 inpatient locations,” Cartier concluded. “For them, the app serves more as a supplement to personal mentoring than as the primary way members can engage.”
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