Anthem launches series of digital and telehealth initiatives focused on improving health access and equity
The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified health equity issues across California and the rest of the country. As the health care delivery system transforms, underserved populations are facing increasing challenges in accessing quality health care.
To combat these challenges and address individualized needs, Anthem Blue Cross of California has launched a series of innovative initiatives in recent months to help simplify and improve health care access for their 1.2 million Medi-Cal members during the public health emergency.
One such program is Anthem’s digital solutions kiosk program, which offers access to real-time, live interpretation services and telehealth. This program is helping health centers and Anthem members overcome communication barriers and improve health as the number of non-English speaking residents continues to grow across California. In the past six months, Anthem has deployed more than 200 Wi-Fi enabled, mobile kiosks that facilitate on-demand interpretation of more than 240 languages through trained and certified interpreters. The kiosks also offer access to specialty telehealth, video conferencing, insurance benefit information, and community resources during patient appointments. These tools are proving to be critical during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“When Anthem Blue Cross first launched our digital kiosk initiative, our main focus was to address the diverse needs of our members, increase efficiencies and capabilities among our provider partners, and simplify health care,” says Joel Gray, Executive Director of CA Medicaid at Anthem Blue Cross. “When new challenges related to the pandemic emerged, Anthem was already one step ahead and prepared to expand our initiative to address increasing needs for telehealth and virtual care.”
Gray continues by saying that culturally diverse Californians, and especially Medi-Cal program participants, commonly experience health equity issues due to language barriers, which makes them less likely to seek care or build trusting relationships with care providers. The added challenges of the COVID-19 health crisis only exacerbate barriers, so Anthem’s digital solutions are proving to be timely resource amid the evolving health care landscape.
“Without the kiosks, our patients and health care providers were forced into a quagmire of perilous communication. Thanks to Anthem Blue Cross, we can speak clearly with each other in any language, on-demand, to achieve better health for everyone,” says Jonathan Porteus, CEO of WellSpace Health, a community health system that serves more than 100,000 people in Sacramento, Placer, and Amador counties.
Anthem also recently launched a new program that expands access to eConsults. EConsults allow primary care providers to electronically consult with specialists to get expert guidance while treating patients. This enables primary care providers to offer comprehensive, whole person care without having to refer patients to specialists.
Through Anthem’s eConsult program, care providers securely upload medical records and exam information for specialists to review. Specialists then send expert treatment and disease management recommendations back to the primary care provider. This creates efficiencies and simplifies health care, since patients do not have to schedule and travel to multiple appointments with different doctors. It eliminates burdens such as taking time off from work, traveling long distances or establishing new relationships. Instead, comprehensive care is provided through a single provider who patients already know, trust, and can understand.
“The demand for specialty care outpaces the number of specialists available to serve Californians,” says Gray. “Underserved populations, such as those who live in remote areas, have income restraints, or experience transportation barriers, can have a much harder time accessing care. It is less likely for individuals to seek care or adhere to treatment programs from doctors they do not know or understand, so Anthem is using our eConsult initiative to help our partnering providers build stronger health homes, improve health outcomes, and simplify care for Anthem Medi-Cal members.
Anthem is currently outreaching to primary care providers to share information about eConsults and offer opportunities to leverage capabilities.
Anthem is also reaching out to both provider partners and its Medi-Cal members to make them aware of new opportunities to access innovative resources that can address care gaps and improve overall health outcomes. Through $4.4 million in advance incentive payments, Anthem is helping 54 California safety net health centers increase quality initiatives and enhance telehealth capabilities.
As part of this initiative, Anthem is connecting the health centers with resources to develop culturally informed, multilingual health care engagement capabilities. This includes multilingual and culturally competent text messaging campaigns and telephonic on-demand interpretation services to break through language barriers and better connect with Anthem Medi-Cal members.
“We are already hearing from participating health centers that the multilingual text campaigns are driving more engagement and are successfully prompting their patients to take advantage of new telehealth opportunities,” says Gray. “This is supporting health centers that are struggling financially by increasing patient visits and helping to positively influence health behaviors that improve health outcomes.”