Fighting Addiction in New Mexico: One Organization’s IT-Driven Approach

July 2, 2019
Linking behavioral health to physical health has historically been challenging for most healthcare providers

Senior leaders at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services (RMCHCS), a Gallup, N.M.-based integrated rural hospital that offers behavioral health options, have always subscribed to the theory that identifying the root causes of addiction in the patients it treats will make a big difference in their future health and well-being.

The patient care organization’s behavioral health services range from 90-day residential treatment to a step-down intensive outpatient program and an outpatient mental health clinic. Like many around the country, the hospital—which provides wrap-around behavioral and physical health services for a large community suffering from trauma-induced alcoholism, drug addiction and other mental health issues—has made significant inroads in adopting technology that improves care collaboration on the clinical side, but it’s been a struggle on the behavioral health services front, which has historically operated on paper records.

For instance, explains David Conejo, the CEO of RMCHCS, on the behavioral health side of the system, basic patient assessments would be manually conducted at the time of entry, but that would result in data siloes where critical patient information doesn’t move from one care provider to the next. But then in 2017, the healthcare system linked up with Zoeticx, a developer of preventive healthcare resource planning software, which integrates and streamlines data from the Center for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS) including annual wellness visits (AWV), chronic care management, and care transition between physical and behavioral health services.

The Zoeticx app also allows for the management of tracking for patient wellness visits, provides a physical assessments guide through preventative exams and maps out the risk factors for potential diseases for patient follow-up visits, according to company officials. Put another way, Conejo believes that this app will enable hospitals to break through the barriers of traditional behavioral healthcare and monitor and track addicts in real-time.

“Our residents will benefit greatly from these healthcare applications,” says Conejo. “We welcome the opportunity to be the first hospital in the U.S. with the capability to identify the root causes of addiction in the hundreds of patients we treat. We look forward to expediting treatment, providing so many patients with a second-chance.” 

As Gallup has been reported to have tripled the amount of drug and alcohol abuse cases compared to other cities its size throughout the U.S., according to one local rehab center in the area, the need to link their behavioral health needs with their physical health is especially paramount. “On the behavioral health [front], we have discovered that if you identify comorbidities at the time of someone’s treatment, and you treat the patients for their disease—say drug addiction or alcoholism—and you treat their comorbidities along with that, the success rate is much greater than it would have been otherwise,” Conejo attests.

As such, he views the Zoeticx innovation from a clinical operations standpoint and the benefit of creating assessment-based reports that will help expedite treatment. He has 280 behavioral health patients currently under treatment who will benefit from the app and sees potential six-figure cost savings.

Conejo gives a real-world example of when a patient comes in with diabetes—and many of RMCHCS’ patients are Native Americans who have a greater chance of having diabetes than any other U.S. racial groupؙ, according to the CDC—the organization’s care providers look to normalize that patient’s A1C levels, blood pressure, and other types of diabetes maintenance. “If you bring all those people into compliance and you keep their diabetes under control, that will keep them out of the ER,” says Conejo. “And if they come to the clinic and spend between $50 and $200 for their routine exams and tests, that’s much less than one ER visit, which costs $2,500. So we would prefer to have them come to the clinic, and be checked, monitored, and regulated,” he says.

Going forward, RMCHCS has greater plans in place to evolve this initiative. Starting later this month, its residents will use handheld devices that contain up-to-date information about their rehab meetings, potential job interviews, check-ins with probation officers and more, notes Conejo. And for certain required meetings, patients will have to take selfies—which register with facial recognition software—to prove they are actually there.

This new tracking system appropriately aligns with being able to monitor and regulate patients’ health and well-being, as well as how compliant they are, says Conejo, who adds that all the streamlined data will help to ensure that progress is being measured accurately. “When you put all of this together, we believe it will take behavioral and clinical health monitoring to a new level,” he says.

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