DES MOINES, IOWA- February 17, 2023- Certintell Telehealth has announced a new innovation pilot under the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), designed to to bridge the gap between social services and medical care for vulnerable populations. The organization was selected as one of 27 awardees to design a solution for Phase 2 of the challenge that mitigates this care gap. Through HRSA’s Building Bridges to Better Health: A Primary Health Care Challenge, Certintell strives to create an infrastructure of automated text messages (SMS/MMS) that support the exploration of community resources within a culturally-safe and competent forum. The Virtual Community Health Worker (CHW) complements existing care teams, alleviating workloads and promoting more fluid care coordination. 

UPDATE AS OF APRIL 12, 2023: Certintell is chosen as one of 15 Phase 2 winners, who will advance to the third and final phase of the challenge!

After researching needs in the pilot population, Certintell built out an automated SMS-based survey of questions participants can follow to receive the resources that they need, similarly to what a community health worker would do to gauge a participant’s level of need. The survey was built lending inspiration from the Arizona Self-Sufficiency Needs Assessment. In this pilot, Certintell is helping connect participants to resources surrounding housing, food, employment/income and transportation. For this initial test, Certintell is focusing on the underserved Latinx population in Des Moines, IA as they currently represent the largest minority group in Iowa. However, the hope of HRSA is that the concept can be expanded to help health centers nationally.

The goal of Certintell’s pilot is not to take away the work of Community Health Workers, but to help fill gaps where communities can’t hire for long-term Community Health Worker positions, or are stretching their Community Health Worker staff thin.

According to a 2016 HRSA Workforce Projection report, there were three CHWs for every 10,000 adults living with high social needs. While the number of CHWs demanded is expected to grow by more than 2,000 by 2030, there’s still room to ensure a more even distribution of CHW-provided services. 

“By leveraging the power of technology, we’re able to streamline the patient intake process for community health workers and provide quicker, more efficient care for those who need it most for under-resourced areas,” Certintell founder and CEO, Benjamin Lefever, said about the pilot. “If awarded the opportunity to advance to Phase 3 of the HRSA Challenge, our SMS text message software could empower health workers to gather critical information from patients in real-time, allowing them to provide more personalized and effective care.”

Unfortunately, Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) have had an unrelenting influence on our nation’s population health. Affecting up to 50 percent of outcomes, according to the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) Office of Health Policy, the positive or negative outcomes can have lasting consequences on patient disparities. This rings especially true in racial and ethnic minority populations. Due to systemic barriers, underserved and diverse populations are often left vulnerable: uninsured, underpaid, and frequently living without their basic needs met. The issue becomes particularly challenging when patients are disconnected from community resources, or isolated by a lack of cultural connection, willingly or otherwise. Currently, Community Health Workers (CHWs) serve as that bridge between social services and primary care, but funding for these workers is unfortunately sporadic and often concentrated in areas where there are already existing resources to coordinate these efforts. 

As the first solo-black-founded telehealth company, Certintell has been committed to our mission to serve minority populations and patients facing disparities through virtually connected care. The Virtual CHW represents a modernist opportunity to usher in a brighter era of well-being for America’s underserved populations. 

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