PETALUMA -- Redwood Community Health Coalition recently took part in a pilot project testing a mobile health application that enrolls patients in public assistance programs, a potentially pivotal development for the public health sector.
The accelerating convergence of mobile technology and health care will likely open new avenues of access to under-served populations, which could in turn help states with implementing key pieces of health care reform, officials said.
Much of the acceleration of mobile technology has occurred in the private sector, particularly in lieu of the Affordable Care Act and its emphasis on access and technology, while the public health sector hasn't moved nearly as quickly, according to Lucy Streett, senior policy manager for Social Interest Solutions, the Oakland-based developer of the application, called One-e-App.
In an attempt to address that disparity, the nonprofit developer selected the Petaluma-based Redwood Coalition, a consortium of federally qualified health centers across the North Bay, to test the mobile version of One-e-App, a web-based enrollment system, on some 80,000 patients from Sonoma County, many of whom qualify for some type of public assistance such as Medi-Cal or Healthy Families.
Such patients often don't obtain access to those and other programs because of a byzantine system of bureaucracy, according to Pedro Toledo, director of community and government relations of Redwood Coalition.
"Getting enrolled is just so difficult. People get denied because of confusion, or they don't fill out the application right," Mr. Toledo said.Mobile devices to bridge enrollment gap
But with the continual march toward smartphones and tablets from nearly all corners of the population, Social Interest Solutions, working with the California Endowment and the Redwood Coalition, said there is great potential for mobile devices to bridge the enrollment gaps that persist in the public health realm while assisting state-run exchanges that will be a key mechanism of health reform.
Some 85 percent of all adults own a cell phone, 42 percent of them smartphones, according to the study, citing the Pew Research Center.
One goal of the Affordable Care Act is to establish multiple enrollment channels for health care and human services.
"The mobile environment, the wave of the future, must be one of those channels," the report states.
"It's an interesting area that is a bit untapped," Ms. Streett said.
The pilot study was funded by a broader two-year, $1.2 million grant from the California Endowment focused on modernizing enrollment. It's among the first in the nation to test the effectiveness of public program enrollment using mobile devices, according to Social Interest Solutions, and the Redwood Coalition is the first organization in California to test the mobile application.
It was selected because of its familiarity with the web-based One-e-App, as well as its success in enrolling 96 percent of all children in Sonoma County into some form of health insurance, an important step in improving health outcomes, Mr. Toledo said.
"That's where we fit in -- in an effort to try to expand these services beyond children in preparation for health care reform," he said.Fill in one form, complete many
The pilot study closely watched certified application assistors at seven Redwood Health clinics. Each assistor was equipped with an iPad 3 and a wireless printer, which they then used to enroll applicants in a number of programs. One-e-App is effective because an individual can fill out one application for, say, Medi-Cal, and the software will automatically fill in as many other applications possible, thereby streamlining the process and eliminating the need to go to one agency at a time.