Addressing Health Disparities with Empathy and Analytics

06.24.19

a person smiling for the camera

 

Dave Masom
Director of Product Management

Time to Read: 4 mins

 

At Pack Health, we encounter people every day who are motivated to improve their health but have substantial barriers to doing so. Often, services exist to help people with these barriers. The challenge is linking the right individuals to the right services at the right time. We tackle this challenge in our digital health coaching programs with what we call “concierge services”, where the member’s Health Advisor conducts a service or refers a patient to resources that address social determinants. Today, I’ll be talking about Pack Health’s resource partnerships in the areas of transportation, nutrition, and finance, as examples of how we apply our ethos of digital empathy to address Social Determinants of Health.

When Transportation Presents a Barrier to Care

Every year, 3.6 million people in the US miss medical care due to transportation issues. In a recent Patient Pulse, 1 in 10 of respondents said that in the last 12 months they’d foregone care because they lacked a way to get to their appointment. These missed appointments can result in poorer health outcomes and increased healthcare costs. As an organization, we recognized this as a crucial care gap, so we partnered with Uber Health to offer free rides to active members whenever transportation is a barrier to care.

The Digital Empathy Approach: It’s important to note that we’re not sending people a coupon code for Uber when they sign up for Uber, or linking to Uber from a member portal. The “digital empathy” approach means that we plug this resource in when, and only when, a member needs it. We were already asking about key visits to make sure members were getting the right care and preparing for their appointments. If in that process we find out a member doesn’t have reliable transportation to that appointment, we can now use the Uber Health dashboard to schedule a ride.

a screenshot of a cell phoneWhen Healthy Food is Hard to Come By

 

Members consistently report access to healthy food as a barrier. When paired with cost-related barriers, the impacts can become two-fold. In a recent survey of Pack Health members, 2 in 5 respondents said that in the last 12 months they ate unhealthy food because they didn’t have enough money for a healthier option. Other barriers include the time or knowledge to cook healthy meals, and finding healthy options people enjoy.

The Digital Empathy Approach: At Pack Health, we recognize that it’s harder for some to access healthier foods than others; we’re dedicated to meeting people where they are. Members may need education on healthy cooking techniques, simple meal suggestions, full-on meal plans, grocery lists, coupons, a grocery delivery service, or some combination of these services. Depending on the member’s specific needs and barriers, the Health Advisor has a variety of concierge service capabilities to take out a step in the process and help members achieve their health goals.

Financial Concerns

Over 60% of our members say they have waited to go to the doctor or skipped an appointment entirely because of cost; over 90% worry about future financial problems as a result of their health.

The Digital Empathy Approach: Because our programs are specifically designed for members living with a chronic disease, many individuals in our programs are on high-cost treatments. Health Advisors can help reduce the cost of these medications through a couple of different mechanisms. Health Advisors are trained to help members apply for assistance or locate discount coupons. Additionally, they can help provide cost estimation strategies to help members plan for upcoming medical costs and find the best price for the care they need.

Best Practices to Solve for Social Determinants at Scale

We follow a three-step process to identify a member’s needs and then address them:

  1. Ask the right questions. We use an empathy-focused approach to understand where our members are at. We ask what barriers a member faces across a number of different domains: coordinating care, health budgeting, medication adherence, nutrition, and more.
  2. Develop responses to common barriers. Although our Health Advisors have the flexibility to address any healthcare issues that arise for their members, we also take a systematic approach to addressing issues that consistently come up. This includes forming partnerships that can help address barriers, such as our partnership with Uber Health.
  3. Close the loop. Our system automatically reaches out to members who have received a concierge service for feedback and to ensure the need has been met. If it hasn’t, their Health Advisor follows up.

It’s All About “the Why”

The consensus across the healthcare industry is that health outcome improvement starts with addressing health disparities. Often, services exist but individuals lack the tools or touchpoints to connect the dots. This is where Pack Health’s blend of human interaction and technology – or, as we call it, digital empathy – comes in. Health Advisors build the trust necessary to identify barriers related to social determinants of health. Our system empowers them to provide solutions to those barriers in those moments where they’re most relevant. It’s a drop in the pool when it comes to the breadth of health disparities that exist, but every day we’re consciously working to close these gaps in care.

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