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New Text Messaging Program to Improve Mental Health Care in Texas

  • November 6, 2019
  • Access to Medicine, Access to Medicines, U.S. Medical Access, U.S. Programs

Stamford, Conn. — Nov. 6, 2019 — In an effort to improve mental health care, Americares, Epharmix, and The National Council for Behavioral Health have launched a new text messaging program to ensure low-income and uninsured patients in Texas are engaged and supported throughout treatment.

Patients enrolled in the program receive periodic text reminders to take their medication through Epharmix’s patient engagement platform, which uses evidence-based text messages to collect patient-reported symptom data. Going beyond reminders, the platform collects each patient’s reasons for missed doses, such as feeling better, side effects, running out of meds, etc. Care managers at participating clinics receive alerts and initiate follow up with clients in need of care, proactively addressing barriers to adherence.

“Our hope is improving medication adherence will not only improve clinical outcomes, but also decrease related health care costs associated with hospitalizations and medical appointments,” said Americares Medical Director Dr. Julie Varughese. “We hope to see increases in staff efficiencies since care managers can engage with patients on a day-to-day basis remotely, with timely indicators giving them the ability to intervene as needed.”

Four hundred patients are participating through eight Americares partner health centers in Texas: Andrews Center in Tyler, Betty Hardwick Center in Abilene, Emergence Health Network in El Paso, Integral Care in Austin, MHMR of Tarrant County in Fort Worth, StarCare Specialty Health System in Lubbock, The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD in Houston, and West Texas Centers in Big Spring. The health centers were chosen through an application process earlier this year.

Texas was chosen for the pilot program because it ranks first in the U.S. for the variety and frequency of natural disasters, which significantly impact mental health. This includes emerging or increased depression as survivors attempt to cope with loss related to a disaster.

Patients have the option to communicate by text message or phone call, which allows patients with landlines to participate. By increasing patient engagement, the data obtained can improve care by indicating to the treatment team when intervention is needed.

Select clinics will also engage patients diagnosed with depression by assessing depression symptoms. Epharmix will send patients an evidence-based depression screener to collect depression levels over time. By standardizing the collection of this data, clinics can prioritize and intervene when patients report extremely low moods during the course of their treatment.

The National Council for Behavioral Health, the unifying voice of 3,326 organizations providing mental health and addictions treatment and services, was selected by Americares for collaboration on this project.

“Texas community behavioral health organizations are delivering vital services to their communities and this new texting initiative will give clinicians an additional tool to support patient engagement. We know that text messaging provides simple and low-cost means to amplify and reinforce patient-empowerment strategies,” said National Council President and CEO Chuck Ingoglia. “We look forward to partnering with Americares and Epharmix on this project in the state of Texas.”

In the U.S., Americares is the largest nonprofit provider of medical aid to organizations serving low-income and uninsured patients. Americares provides medicine, supplies, education and training annually to a network of more than 1,000 partner clinics nationwide. Americares U.S. Program helps partner clinics increase capacity, provide comprehensive care, improve health outcomes and reduce costs for patients.