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Susan Partain

Senior Writer, National Council for Behavioral Health

Vinfen Recognized for Innovative Use of Technology as Workforce Extender

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This post is the first in a series profiling National Council member organizations who have been recognized for practice innnovations in our quickly shifting healthcare environment. Upcoming posts will feature Mental Health America-Los Angeles, Henderson Behavioral Health, and the Center for Health Care Services.

Facing significant gaps in care for individuals living with serious mental illness, providers and payers around the country are turning to innovative technologies to address these patients’ physical and mental health needs. Vinfen – a National Council member organization serving areas of Massachusetts and Connecticut – was recently recognized by Connect 4 Mental Health for its creative use of technology through use of a small clock-radio-size device called Health Buddy that helps patients self-manage their health.

Dr. Steven Bartels at Dartmouth worked with Bosch Healthcare to adopt Health Buddy for use by people with mental illness and addiction. Vinfen is collaborating with Dr. Bartels on evaluating the implementation among the people it serves.

The device asks questions to assess how patients are doing, and depending on their response, may ask for more details, provide some coaching on self-management, or, if patients aren’t doing well, it will prompt them to call their nurse. The sophisticated device also alerts a nurse practitioner at Vinfen (who checks a report every day) to let them know how individuals are doing, and if anyone may need an intervention or other attention (e.g., a visit or call from a health outreach worker).

In use for over a year now, Vinfen has found that use of the device led to significant improvement in health and reduction in emergency room use. Within the early phase of implementation last year, Vinfen estimated that the Health Buddy averted 71 emergency room visits for 34 participants – a population that often must rely on emergency care in the absence of longer-term health management.

Bruce Bird, President and CEO of Vinfen, notes that use of the Health Buddy is also a cost-effective staff extender, as it frees up time for staff – letting them already know a baseline of how their clients are doing and what needs they may have.

“If you believe in disruptive innovation, then you’ll notice that more and more people are going to find a way to serve themselves,” said Bird.

The population Vinfen serves includes individuals with significant challenges; most people they see have multiple medical challenges in addition to mental illness and/or addiction. Bird notes that the target population for the Health Buddy so far is older adults, many who have not had much experience with personal or mobile technology.

“To say that we have a technology for that population is encouraging, because you’d presume that people with fewer challenges would be easier to engage,” added Bird.

Bird notes that not everyone is interested in using the device, noting that some people they work with are suspicious of technology in general.  But for those who do opt to try it out, they’ve seen remarkable adherence and engagement. For example, one client with a serious alcohol and drug abuse problem would stop seeing staff for regular appointments, but continued to faithfully check in with Health Buddy.

Encouraged by these early successes, Vinfen is exploring ways to extend the idea to more people; potentially through mobile applications, particularly younger populations who are already more connected and familiar with personal technology.

Read the story of how one individual uses Health Buddy to manage their health and wellness on NAMI’s blog.

Vinfen was recognized for its innovations around creative use of technology by Connect 4 Mental Health. In this next phase of Connect 4 Mental Health, Vinfen will mentor another community looking to accomplish similar successes. Learn how you can get involved and apply for an award at www.Connect4MentalHealth.com.