When it comes to patient navigation, apps alone aren’t the answer

 In English, News

Benefits providers offer their clients a raft of services, from 24/7 physician access, to internet cognitive therapy. These are often accessed via Apps.

This system works sometimes, especially with less severe medical conditions and tech-savvy plan members.

But even with them, what they want first is a human being to help them access not only the technology, but the vast and opaque health system they’re about to enter.

I don’t have stats on this, but it is well known in the industry that the uptake and usage rates for many of these App rarely justify the large investment that benefits providers put into them. Toolkits are wonderful, but people have to open them in order to use them – and to know their role in their returning to health and to work.

Plan sponsors and insurers are already unnecessarily paying for disability benefit claims due to lack of access to “elective” but essential healthcare services. So it’s time to see what can help reduce that cost and boost the effectiveness of the tools they provide.

What can help, of course, is patient navigation.

This is not a particularly new or untested idea. In fact, patient navigation has been an essential component of patient care and health benefits for over 12 years in America.

The US health benefits system has its obvious flaws, but one singular benefit is that when you have a serious medical issue that’s covered by your health plan, the first thing you get is a patient navigator.

Here’s an example of the depth of that service at the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center in Louisiana. The site asks its patients the question we often ask our clients, and that I ask our group benefits clients: “What can a patient navigator do for you?”

The short-form answer is: Assess Needs, Educate, Remove Barriers, Provide Access and Give Support. Each of those services is necessary in the US health system; in the Canadian system, with our unacceptably-long wait times for essential medical services, they are critical.

In addition to hospitals and other acute-and primary-care facilities across the United States, there are literally hundreds of private companies that offer patient navigation services to benefits providers and their clients. It is an established business in the US whose value is proven by market differentiation, shorter off-work times and lower claims.

Here in Canada, we have been slower to embrace patient navigation.

As we emerge from the pandemic seeking new answers to chronic health-care funding problems, it will be time to give patient navigation its due.

It’s long overdue.

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