Accenture, an IT consulting and services company, has designed a prototype Android app called Patient Navigator to help certified health professionals lead patients in underserved areas to care.
Patient navigators are low-cost, trained community members that assess people's conditions and coach them on how to seek health services. They can reduce no-show rates at physician appointments, lower inpatient admissions and reduce emergency room visits, Accenture reported.
Barriers to care include financial obstacles, communication, language, culture and distrust of the health care system, Jean-Pierre Stephan, managing director for Accenture, told eWEEK.
The Patient Navigator app tracks some of these "barrier types" as part of the patient profile. It allows navigators to manage patient case loads, said Stephan.
"The app right now is starting to help these navigators profile the patient," Stephan said. "There's a series of checklists for them to get to know the patient—what's their insurance, what's their financial information, their physical needs, their conditions, but most important, what are their barriers to care."
Navigators can help patients overcome barriers by using the app to send alerts to patients regarding appointments and lab screening diagnoses.
The app can schedule appointments and line up transportation to get patients to their doctor appointments. It also offers fields for navigators to record notes and update tasks regarding the patient.
Patient Navigator also offers a financial calculator to help people identify the type of health insurance they may qualify for and educate them about state health insurance exchanges, Stephan said.
In fact, the Affordable Care Act requires that exchanges provide funding for navigators to help patients shop for insurance plans, according to a Washington Post report.
A "service continuum" field in the Patient Navigator app helps health professionals coordinate care transitions, such as handing off care to a nurse, case manager or social worker.
Checkboxes in the app allow the community members to indicate if a patient is insured, needs help with immigration status or whether they require medical equipment such as wheelchairs. Navigators can also indicate whether a patient has a condition such as cancer, diabetes or asthma.
A 2012 survey of 3,209 U.S. consumers by Accenture found that 59 percent are using mobile apps to seek information on health care services, treatment and wellness.
"At the end of the day, we're looking to remove barriers to access and also improve health care outcomes," said Stephan of the patient navigator program. "To measure these health care outcomes, it takes quite a bit of coordination and collaboration, consolidation and reporting."
As part of Accenture's work in removing barriers to care, it has launched a patient navigator pilot with Highmark Foundation, a nonprofit focused on community health, at St. Vincent Health System in Erie, Penn., and Allegheny Valley in Pittsburgh.
The mobile app may be used in this pilot, said Stephan.
Announced on Feb. 5, the pilot project will involve certified health professionals in those Pennsylvania communities training patients on how to improve their care.
"This initiative demonstrates the Highmark Foundation's commitment to improving and assuring access to quality health care for underserved populations in both urban and rural areas," Yvonne Cook, president of the Highmark Foundation, said in a statement. "Patient navigators have proven to be effective by enabling timely access to health care services."
Accenture and Highmark chose Allegheny and Erie counties for the pilot because rankings there indicated a high need for navigators, according to Accenture. Factors contributing to the rankings included limited access to care, health disparities, low income and racial or ethnic diversity.