Making the Connection to Healthcare Help
Who can you call? Where can you get help?
Thousands of times a week, people in need of physical or mental health resources dial 2-1-1 to resolve healthcare issues or defuse a personal crisis in real time.
Until now, the people who answered 211 requests for information and help had a limited number of resources to offer confused and anxious callers. Those resources, however, have been given a dramatic boost over the past few months.
Recently, Ascension Health selected three cities to study new ways to help 211 callers who are prevented from receiving the healthcare they need by formidable barriers such as lack of insurance, transportation, or life skills. Ascension Health is the nation’s largest Catholic non-profit health system and includes Saint Thomas Health in Middle Tennessee.
The cities of San Diego, West Palm Beach, Fla. and Nashville were chosen for pilot telephone programs connecting callers with a healthcare navigator, a position within the 211 structure funded by Ascension Health.
Scott Payne, MDiv, program manager for the local 211 service, hopes the navigator position will improve access care for Nashville residents who do not have primary care options.
“People shouldn’t have to go without healthcare because they don’t have access to information,” Payne observed.
In Nashville, Family & Children’s Service funds the 211 telephone program in partnership with the United Way to assist with comprehensive and timely information and referrals to many community resources, including food and shelter. The healthcare navigator staff member is trained to assess need, manage access to healthcare services and schedule callers with appropriate healthcare providers in real time.
Last month, it was also announced the 211 Nashville Call Center will work with MyHealthDIRECT (MHD), a national web-based health services company headquartered in Wisconsin. The addition of the MHD application will allow healthcare navigators to rapidly connect callers to appropriate resources addressing an individual’s specific needs.
This collaboration between MHD, local healthcare providers and the 211 Nashville program is designed to improve rapid access to healthcare for area residents. MHD software organizes open and available healthcare appointment slots in the Nashville community into a searchable and schedulable inventory of healthcare services, providing continuity of care and reducing unnecessary cost and utilizations. Using the application, 211 health navigators will be able to immediately find available provider openings throughout the community and book appointments for callers based on specific needs and preferences.
MyHealthDIRECT CEO and founder Jay Mason said, “We are very pleased to partner with Family & Children’s Service and 211, with support from Ascension Health, to streamline the delivery of this vital service and reduce barriers that often prevent individuals from accessing the care they need.”
The 211 Call Center provides around-the-clock support to callers and their families by providing access to an array of resources and services available in the region. With the MHD solution, the 211 healthcare navigator will be able not only to schedule appointments and internally manage and track callers, their circumstances and issue resolutions, but also to provide transportation information such as directions or public transit options, offer language options, and issue appointment reminders to ensure the appointment is kept or rescheduled. Across the country, MHD’s web-based solution has helped healthcare organizations improve access to care, facilitate care management and improve quality measures.
Payne said he is hopeful the knowledge that someone is willing to help find appropriate healthcare will give callers confidence in the system that will result in a closer working relationship. Last year, the 211 Call Center answered just shy of 150,000 calls for help and provided referrals to more than 1,800 agencies in the region. Of those callers, approximately 10 percent were seeking physical healthcare-related assistance.
It is well documented that uninsured and underinsured patients have long been accessing healthcare through hospital emergency departments. Visits to community hospitals have risen every year since 1997, while the total number of EDs has been steadily declining. Payne pointed out, “This is the most expensive kind of healthcare.” He added this could be avoided with the direction and information about other options at the disposal of the healthcare navigator.
This innovative technological platform combined with a knowledgeable healthcare navigator has the potential to transform the way people with few resources or little information could successfully access healthcare and positively impact the costs associated with that care.