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Peer to Peer Support Drives Real Outcomes

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For those struggling with behavioral health conditions, there can be many factors coming between them and getting the care they need - from anxiety and depression, to getting a ride to a doctor’s appointment or picking up medicine.

UnitedHealthcare Community & State and Johnson County Medical Health Center (JCMHC) in Johnson County, Kansas, have offered a fresh approach to bridging this gap in care, by providing transportation.

But there’s an important twist: drivers are “peer drivers,” individuals who have received services from JCMHC and are currently in recovery. So not only do the drivers know where the patient is going, they also know where they’re coming from.

“One of the great things about the clientele is they appreciate that it’s a peer driving them,” said Marla Gruendel, peer driver. “We understand where that person is coming from. They seem to trust us. They’re open with us. And we’re open with them.”

More than Just a Ride

In October 2017, the organizations kicked off a 1-year pilot program that provides JCMHC behavioral health patients with holistic  transportation services. These rides can be used to get to work, school, and social services, as well as mental health and medical appointments. In this program, the patient makes a one-way call that connects them directly to a driver, much like other consumer on-demand transportation services.

Peer drivers must pass both driving and background checks and are trained in crisis intervention, de-escalation, first aid and customer service. Drivers engage with their passengers and have been trained to detect if a member is at risk for having a mental health crisis. This information is then relayed to care managers at both JCMHC and UnitedHealthcare, in a HIPAA compliant manner, so appropriate services and support can be deployed early, stabilizing the member’s condition while avoiding a crisis situation.

The Two-Way Street of Peer to Peer

In the first year of this launch, data shows that 75 percent of the trips were for engaging in employment or employment services. Medical reasons comprised 18 percent of the trips while the other 7 percent were a mix of meeting housing, nutritional or social needs.

 “A ‘whole person care approach’ requires not just the utilization of innovative health care management but supportive service interventions that impact both a person's health and the quality of their life,” said Dr. Jeffrey Brenner, Senior Vice President Integrated Health and Social Services at Community & State.

The pilot is monitoring the health for the participating members—and the results are promising. In 10 months, members in the pilot have shown an increase in regular doctor visits and have seen a nearly 39 percent reduction in ER costs.

Reliable transportation is a social determinant of health that can be a key to lowering cost, improving outcomes, and positively and compassionately affecting quality of life for many.

And the benefits of these peer to peer interactions are often a two-way street. For Chelsea, a current peer driver, the companionship and conversation feel more like therapy than a job. “It gets me out into the community and interacting with the clients. It also helps me feel better about myself because the clients understand where I’m coming from and have experienced the same stuff.”