Patient engagement support vendor offers free telehealth to NY, NJ women

UPIC Health CEO Mary Tucker says she hopes to partner with community hospitals in the future.

UPIC Health, which provides administrative revenue cycle and patient engagement support to healthcare clients, now is offering telehealth services for free to women who live in New York and New Jersey.

According to UPIC CEO Mary Tucker, the company uses the Mend platform to connect qualifying clients with certified health coaches, nutritionists, licensed naturopathic doctors and clinical psychologists at no cost.

WHY IT MATTERS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in partnership with the Census Bureau reported this week that 37% of women said they had experienced symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder in the last seven days. Other reports have indicated upswings in alcohol consumption, with a third of people in a survey of 3,000 saying they had drunk on the job while working at home.

Such reports concerned Tucker, who was seeing the emotional impact of COVID-19 on her own employees. She decided to start offering UPIC's telehealth services at no charge to women who live in New York and New Jersey, two regions of the country that have been especially hard-hit with the pandemic. 

"I thought, we're having a good year," she laughed. "So I thought, let's just do this and see how long the money lasts." 

As Tucker tells it, UPIC offers services based on an intake form. Clients who report as below a five on the emotional scale are routed directly to a clinical psychologist. Others are connected with health coaches who also have received training through the California Consortium of Addiction Professionals, a nutritionist or a naturopathic doctor.

Staff members also are connected with social services organizations – for instance, when clients need additional support.

UPIC's services are HIPAA-compliant, Tucker said. UPIC will use a HIPAA-compliant electronic health record, and she said leadership does "spot checks" to ensure confidentiality among coaches providing care. Although most of the services are via video, telephone also is an option if needed.

The free program currently is open to women, including trans women, Tucker said. Those who do not identify as women, such as non-binary people, are not eligible. "I don't want to lock anybody out," Tucker said, "but I don't want to run out of money, so we can keep this going."

At the end of the three-month pilot, Tucker said, the company will give patients a survey similar to the initial intake form and compare the results.

In the future, she hopes to partner with community health centers who could connect their patients with UPIC's services.

"They have a lot of mission initiatives that are consistent with what we're delivering," she said.

THE LARGER TREND

Telehealth services aimed at addressing behavioral health and wellness needs have soared in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs St. Louis Healthcare System announced a pilot partnership earlier this month with telecom vendor Uniper Health to give veterans access to wellness classes, including healthy eating and tai chi, from their own homes.

"It's live group programming," said Amanda Purnell, innovation specialist at the VA St. Louis Healthcare System. "So the clinicians delivering the material can respond to the veterans' questions in real time."

Behavioral and mental health providers also have turned to virtual care. Although experts have for years pointed to the accessibility of telehealth as an advantage for patients, the relaxation of regulatory requirements as the pandemic spread across the country allowed many clinicians to expand at-home services, including via telephone.

A recent study pointed to psychiatrists' "pleasant surprise" with the shift to telemedicine, with many respondents noting the safety advantages of avoiding in-person contact.

ON THE RECORD

"Instead of just throwing tech at a problem, we need to understand what the aims are and then find the right technology," Tucker said.

"Healthcare is often siloed" between services, she continued. "But telehealth can act as a bridge."

 

Kat Jercich is senior editor of Healthcare IT News.
Twitter: @kjercich
Healthcare IT News is a HIMSS Media publication.

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