Harvard to study how mPulse Mobile's interactive texting programs impact Medicaid populations

By Heather Mack
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While it is impossible to call any one method of patient engagement “tried and true,” texting as a means of getting people to play an active role in their healthcare has been a successful strategy in many cases, ranging from diabetes management to depression.

That’s Encino, California-based mPulse Mobile’s forte, and the company has now attracted the attention of Harvard Medical School researchers who want to examine how interactive, tailored text messages impact a large Medicaid population in Southern California.

Researchers from Harvard’s Department of Health Care Policy will look at two distinct text-based patient engagement programs at the Gold Coast Health Plan in Ventura County, which serves around 200,000 Medicaid members. One program will use text messaging to help new members select and visit a primary care clinician soon after enrolling, and the second will aim to get people living with a chronic condition, such as asthma, to engage with a disease management program.

While many healthcare organizations have deployed one-way notification text messages for years, mPulse expands by developing two-way texting programs to increase patient engagement, and works by tailoring messages for all parties involved, including payers, pharmacies, providers and medical device companies. With mPulse’s programs, the messages can be used to communicate in English, Spanish, several other Romance languages and Chinese.

It was the interactive nature of mPulse’s offering that got Harvard interested, said Dr. Ateev Mehrotra, who is a program researcher and professor of healthcare policy and medicine at Harvard. Even with the common usage of text messaging in healthcare, there is a dearth of research evaluating how two-way, personalized texting to targeted populations actually works.

“There is a major need for innovation in care delivery and how we can engage patients outside of just the office visit,” Mehrotra said in a statement. “I’ve spent much of my career studying the ability of different interventions to drive advancements in population health management, and I’m excited about the possibility for mPulse Mobile to engage individuals in their health using tailored and interactive text messaging to improve outcomes and lower costs.”

mPulse, which spun out of secure mobile messaging company mobileStorm in late 2014, has raised funding totaling $13.35 million as of date and has previously found success in Medicare and Medicaid populations. In July 2016, the company released findings of a three-month study with Inland Empire Health Plan, another Southern California Medicare and Medicaid Plan. According to the program’s whitepaper, the interactive and tailored text messages have been successful in improving member knowledge of IEHP plan offerings and promoting proactive engagement among Medicaid members.

For new enrollees on Gold Coast Health Plan, navigating their benefits and figuring out how to utilize their primary care services can be confusing and overwhelming, especially for those with language or cultural barriers. As such, people may have chronic conditions or illnesses they do not recognize, and may end up unnecessarily going to the emergency room instead. Researchers will look at how tailored text conversations can aide in getting patients connected to the right primary care provider, and how that ultimately can improve outcomes and resource allocations.
 
The research funding will come from the California HealthCare Foundation’s Health Innovation Fund, which also supported the July 2016 program with the Inland Empire Health Plan.

“Harvard’s interest in studying the efficacy of these programs further validates the need for innovative mobile solutions that reach members and drive engagement, particularly with underserved populations,” mPulse Mobile CEO Chris Nicholson said in a statement. “We’re thrilled to work with Harvard and our customer Gold Coast Health Plan on this research and continue proving text messaging’s positive impact on health outcomes.”

Gold Coast Health Plan also wants to give the program a try as they report unsatisfactory management of chronic conditions, which often results in inadequate or poorly adhered-to treatment.

“We offer members targeted strategies for helping manage chronic conditions, working with them to achieve their best possible health,” Dr. Nancy R. Wharfield, Gold Coast Health Plan’s associate chief medical officer said in a statement. “mPulse Mobile’s solutions are based on its deep understanding of the unique challenges health plans face in managing Medicaid and other vulnerable populations, and it’s demonstrated time and again its ability to design effective mobile engagement strategies. We’re looking forward to seeing learnings from these programs applied industry-wide.”