Telehealth Puts Truckers on the Path to Better Access, Health Outcomes

Truck drivers don’t typically have a healthy lifestyle. But a Texas company that’s using mHealth and telehealth to improve access to care and boost health outcomes could offer a model of care for the industry.

A Texas trucking company is using an mHealth app and telehealth platform to significantly improve healthcare access and outcomes for its employees.

L&F Distributors, based in McAllen, found that business was slow in its nine on-site health clinics, spread across eight distribution centers, so the self-insured company partnered with b.well Connected Health roughly five years ago to launch an mHealth app that employees could use to access and manage care. One year later, the company launched Retro Health, a telehealth platform aimed at improving care management for members living with chronic conditions.

Since then, L&F has seen a 57 percent increase in use of its on-site clinics – with visits and other services managed through the app – and a sizeable boost in enrollment in its chronic disease management programs. They’ve also seen per-member-per-month healthcare costs drop 14 percent, while chronic disease costs have tumbled almost 80 percent.

“One of the things we’ve tried to do is break down the barriers to healthcare,” says Joe Lamantia, Jr., who launched the company in 1978. “And there were a lot of them.”

L&F employs 1,200 – roughly 720 of which are truckers – and covers a wide swath of Texas and southern New Mexico, delivering craft beer and spirits, wine, water, milk and other beverages. They’re part of a trucking industry that employs roughly 3.6 million drivers across the US, according to the American Trucking Associations.

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Like many industries whose employees are mobile, truck drivers often have a difficult time accessing healthcare, and they’re more prone to developing chronic conditions, including back and leg pain, migraines, diabetes, obesity, hypertension and cardiac problems. Exercise and nutrition are hard to maintain, and trips to the doctor’s office are often dependent on the work schedule (usually few and far between).

Those challenges make the trucking and transportation industries prime candidates for connected health services. Using mHealth apps and telehealth platforms, companies can improve access to care for workers on the road. Others partner with health systems or telehealth companies to place mobile health clinics in truck stops along major routes.

Recently the Healthy Transportation Foundation, a national non-profit advocating for the health and well-being of professional truck drivers, announced a partnership with telehealth company MeMD to expand access to care for those on the road. The deal fits snugly into the foundation’s new “Shift Into Better Health” initiative.

“What we’ve learned in our work with transportation companies is that drivers’ schedules make it difficult for them to see a doctor when they’re sick or injured,” Bill Goodwin, MeMD’s CEP, said in a press release. “This results in a lot of absenteeism, which creates scheduling problems and delivery delays – especially for smaller companies. With virtual urgent care, it’s fast and easy for drivers to connect with a medical provider on the road, even in remote areas.”

According to the HTF, which represents some 7 million truckers, roughly 60 percent of drivers are classified as obese, more than 60 percent live with diabetes and related health conditions, more than half live with hypertension and almost half are dealing with liver disease.

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The partnership with MeMD enables drivers to access urgent care and virtual primary care services via mobile devices, as well as chronic disease screening and management services and preventive health and wellness resources.

“This translates into better management for chronic disease while curbing healthcare costs,” said HTF CEO Jon Slaughter in the press release. “As a result, we expect to contribute to improved individual health, employee productivity and satisfaction. MeMD is an ideal complement to our free health coach assistance and lifestyle change programs.”

Lamantia, who’s a very hands-on owner, traveled to a Healthcare Information Management & Systems Society (HIMSS) conference a few years back to track down telehealth partners. That’s where he met b.well Connected Health.

“We weren’t getting utilization in our clinics,” he says. “12 percent is pretty good (for the industry), but that wasn’t good enough for us.”

Lamantia – who launched his own health plan for the company about seven years ago – says he was particularly interested in curbing the numerous and expensive ER visits that his drivers were reporting. Because they weren’t making use of the clinics and they couldn’t connect with their primary care providers while on the road, many were overlooking aches and pains and health issues until the issue became so bad they have to visit a hospital.

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By launching an mHealth platform that gathers data from employees as well as the health plan, the company is able to see where the healthcare costs are coming from. The app and telehealth platform are tailored to address those needs, and to give employees a convenient access point for receiving care. Instead of going to the hospital, employees can now see a doctor online or schedule an appointment at a company clinic or another care provider.

“We didn’t understand the ability that a company has to manage its healthcare,” Lamantia says, adding that data mined from the platform “is kind of like gold.”

Kristen Valdes, b.well’s founder, says companies like L&F traditionally don’t have visibility into their healthcare costs. An online platform that captures not only insurance claims but data from the employees themselves offers the opportunity to identify and address gaps in care, and to prepare for future healthcare needs.

“It creates a culture of health engagement throughout the year,” she says.

L&F now has an integrated healthcare platform, offering virtual visits as well as scheduling for in-person care at the company’s on-site clinics. They’re offering virtual urgent and primary care as well as some specialty services, including a new maternal health program.

Lamantia has other ideas as well. He wants to expand the platform to cover oncology services and sleep management, and is even thinking about using wearables to enable his employees to keep track of their health.

“It’s all about the data,” he says. “It tells us what we need to know and do.”

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