Kim Fairley is care management supervisor for the North Colorado Health Alliance, where she has worked since 2011 to address poverty and the social determinants of health. The North Colorado Health Alliance has launched a new telehealth tool it believes will help support its rural clients, many of whom live in poverty and have complex medical and behavioral health needs.
The Ascent: Your organization works with clients to overcome some significant challenges, both geographic and financial. How do you do that?
Fairley: We work with them to provide ongoing support, making certain they have equal access, to get their needs met. We do everything from completing applications to meeting transportation needs.
We can’t do all that in person, so we keep in touch via conversational texting. It’s been great, and it keeps us in regular contact--but it’s not HIPAA protected.
The Ascent: How do you handle communication that involves personal health information in a way that’s secure?
Fairley: We’re phasing in Easy Care Colorado, a HIPAA-compliant messaging and video platform developed by Rocky Mountain Health Plans and CirrusMD. For the client, it feels like regular texting. Once they’re registered, all they have to do is type in a personal identification number and start texting. Our case managers walk participants through it. They can use Easy Care Colorado to send pictures, too. Texting can help serve as a form of triage; we work with clients to help them determine the next step--a home visit, a clinic appointment or something else.
The Ascent: What about clients who don’t have a smartphone or a data plan?
Fairley: Northwest Colorado Health Alliance, on behalf of the Western Colorado Telehealth Collaborative, was just awarded a Colorado Health Foundation Telehealth Grant to support practices in overcoming some of the provider and patient barriers to adoption.
We will use some of the grant money to fund a loaner-phone program, providing clients with smart phones with adequate data plans. The grant will support provider and patient training, change management support, and offer a lending program for clients who don't have the technology for telehealth services like these. Participating practices are Primary Care Partners, North Colorado Health Alliance, Northwest Colorado Health and Mountain Family.
Other clients have a free government-issued phone with a limited data plan. We’re exploring how that will work with the Easy Care platform. A third group of patients already has smart phones and adequate data plans. Some of them are in the Easy Care pilot group. It will let us keep that connection with our members while helping them manage their care--and, hopefully, reduce ER visits