Published July 12th, 2023 at 11:00 AM5 minute read
Many folks are still struggling to access health care, especially in low-income and rural areas, even as much of post-pandemic life returns to normal.
Dr. Shelley Cooper hopes her new software can help people overcome those persistent obstacles.
Cooper’s platform Come on Now! works to decrease the number of missed doctors appointments while increasing accessibility for patients who may be unable to make a physical appointment.
Cooper created Come on Now! in 2018 after her father passed away in his sleep because he was unable to access necessary last-minute, life-saving care. This loss highlighted for Cooper the importance of making last-minute telehealth appointments available to help people like her father.
“Had there been an opening … they might have contacted my father and had a telehealth visit and he’d still be around,” she said. “I created the software so that it would increase access to care during those no-show times and allow people to get to a doctor or have doctor’s care get to them when they aren’t able to.”
The app works directly with federally qualified health centers, such as Swope Health in Kansas City, to connect people to telehealth appointments. A patient signs up for the app with their clinic and provider, and if a no-show occurs the app notifies the patient and asks if they would like to take that slot for a telehealth visit.
This service benefits everyone involved.
“It would increase (health centers’) revenue because they would see more patients,” Cooper said. “It would help them to meet their quality measure… And then the patients will be able to get more continuous and stable care. So that’s the value proposition that we propose.”
Come on Now! acts as a three-way patient engagement tool, such as for the three-tiered partnership between Swope Health, Mid-America Regional Council’s Head Start program and early childhood schools to ensure preschoolers are compliant with immunization and health screening requirements.
Cooper’s app notifies parents when their kid needs an appointment to become compliant and provides the option to book last-minute remote telehealth visits to later be completed with an in-person visit at a physical office.
“All three organizations partner with each other and they all win based on meeting the objectives,” Cooper said. “So they’re using the Come on Now! platform to notify parents when their children need their wellness visits.”
As a federally qualified health center, Swope Health often works on reaching underserved populations, and the Come on Now! app helps overcome the barriers these groups face in getting to a doctor’s office.
The major initial barrier to receiving health care is simply getting families into the clinic, said Dr. Kenneth Thomas, a pediatrician and Swope Health’s executive vice president of children’s services.
“The problem is communication. How do we all know that we gave them the appointment? How do you notify the parent of the appointment? How do you confirm the parent has the appointment and they confirm they’re coming? Well, this app is one way to do that,” Thomas said.
Come on Now! also helps parents learn how to navigate the health care system.
Parents need to begin learning how to “continue that path of health care for their child” now so they can continue to do so once their kid is no longer in Head Start, said Sandra Reece, MARC Head Start health manager.
“Through our education, through the connection with those families, talking with them… supporting them and walking them through the process, they’re learning about how to navigate the system,” Reece said.
Difficulty accessing necessary pediatric care is a national issue that extends beyond the Kansas City area, especially as 3.7 million children in the U.S. were uninsured as of 2020.
This is a particularly pressing issue for rural communities.
An estimated 22.3% of Americans in rural areas lack broadband access as of 2018, according to a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) report. These communities can also struggle with a sense of social stigma and privacy concerns around their health care because there is often less anonymity in smaller communities.
Cooper, who also runs another company called Diversity Telehealth, previously taught for 25 years and worked in corporate banking for 10 years, which she said gave her the necessary knowledge to start these companies.
As a teacher, she saw many instances where students missed school, often for minor issues with an easy fix, because they could not see a doctor to help them find a solution.
“There were quite a few students who were missing school for pretty basic reasons, where they might have needed a prescription or they might have just needed to have a visit with a health care provider in order to remedy the situation,” Cooper said.
Similar problems exist in rural school districts, such as in Excelsior Springs, where Come on Now! and Swope Health will be expanding to offer more services.
Last September, MARC Head Start, Swope Health and the Excelsior Springs Early Childhood Center were awarded a grant to establish Swope Health KidsCARE clinic at the Early Childhood Center to address the town’s lack of pediatric providers.
The team has also received two other grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration to facilitate the project, which will start seeing patients this fall.
“The goal is to take care of their health care needs so they can perform at their best and learn and achieve in an academic setting,” Thomas said. “That’s really at the heart of what we do for school-based services. That’s at the heart of what Headstart is doing. That’s the bottom line.”
Being able to play an active role in people’s health and increase accessibility of doctors appointments has been incredibly rewarding, Cooper said.
“I’m really grateful for the opportunity to be a conduit between the two (partners),” Cooper said. “If something like this would have been around in 2018, then our family structure might have been different, might be different to this day. So, I’m just hoping that others don’t have to go through what we had to go through.”
Come on Now! is currently looking to add Somali and Swahili to its list of languages included in the app, so it can better serve Head Start families and immigrants, especially as families must begin meeting school requirements before the school year starts this fall.
As families begin preparing for the upcoming school year while the health care industry continues to struggle with burnout and staffing shortages, Cooper said it is important for people to take charge of their health needs
“We also need to keep in mind that we’re in charge of our own bodies, and we’re in charge of our own health care,” she said. “The health care system is overwrought with so many needs and it’s so understaffed, and that was even more evident during COVID. So, the more we can play an active part in our own healthcare, I think we’re all better off.”