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How technology makes an impact on behavioral health


Services for the Underserved uses healthcare technology tools to reduce costs, increase quality.

A New York City human services agency received a grant to partner with a technology company to reduce the cost of care and increase quality.

Services for the Underserved (SUS) works with people who have developmental disabilities, behavioral health issues, veterans and people with economic disadvantages, including homelessness. The agency provides $185 million in services, and has a staff of more than 2,000 healthcare professionals of different disciplines.

In 2014, the agency received a Balancing Incentive Program grant, a two-year grant that allowed SUS to follow 30 patients to track their progress using healthcare technology tools. After partnering with VirtualHealth, a population health and care management technology company, SUS was given eight weeks to implement cross-functional assessments, analytics and reports that could be utilized by multiple users. The outcomes of the partnership were presented at the National Association of Managed Care Physicians (NAMCP) Spring Managed Care Forum 2017.

Prior to partnering with VirtualHealth, SUS had no health information technology platforms-staff was collecting data using pen and paper, says Jack Plotkin, chief technology officer for VirtualHealth. With a 17% increase in developmental disabilities in the U.S. from 1998 to 2008, the need to increase healthcare technology specifically for these patients has an urgent need.

“They were analyzing data via a laborious and error-prone manual process. We had the opportunity to deliver a highly innovative solution in the intellectual or development disabilities space, to exchange ideas with the high-caliber SUS team, and to make a tangible difference in the lives of individuals living with intellectual or development disabilities conditions,” Plotkin said.

VirtualHealth helped SUS develop specialized assessments and analytics with the needs of their special caseload in mind. The dashboard helped SUS track behavior changes, interventions, caregiver levels, medications, hospitalizations, and life skills development. This included living conditions, and other health indicators such as diabetes or hypertension. The technology also included population health tools to generate dashboards for patients of specific groups. Ultimately, the technology provided a 360-degree view of patients that helped SUS identify opportunities to improve outcomes.

SUS staff reported that being able to visualize the data made evaluations and presentations easier. The VirtualHealth system also allowed different levels of user capabilities. Some users were only allowed to input data, while others could make changes and had access to higher-level capabilities.

After six months of using the new dashboards and analytic tools from VirtualHealth, SUS saw a 70% reduction in challenging behavior. The agency also saw a 30% drop in use of psychotic drugs and a 15% decrease in required caregivers per case. The actual cost savings is difficult to measure, Plotkin says.

“Given that each intellectual or development disabilities patient can cost hundreds of thousands dollars annually, the savings based on the insights gained could easily be in the millions of dollars,” Plotkins said.

During the presentation, Jayresa Sass, behavioral intervention specialist for SUS, said that selecting a strong technology partner is important for quick and effective implementation of new technology tools. “Collaborate on designing workflows, analytics, and reports that optimally support program goals and staff activity,” Sass said.





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