Growing populations of runaway and homeless adolescents face a higher than average risk of physical and mental health problems, but at the same time, have significant difficulties in accessing medical care. When medical issues arise, this group needs help but have few means of financial support.
Compared to the general adolescent population, homeless and runaway teens are significantly less likely to receive routine healthcare and more likely to seek emergency services. In general, they lack health insurance or money to pay for clinic visits, lack transportation to facilities, face insensitive attitudes among providers due to their minor status.
In addition, they often lack acceptable forms of identification and a safe place to keep important documents such as birth certificates and immunization records to help them gain access to care on an ongoing basis.
“Wind Youth Services” with the help of their technology partner “FollowMe” now offer a web-based personal health information service to homeless and runaway adolescents aged 11 to 22 via “Healthshack". This web service enables youths to enter, update, and access critical personal information such as their health history, proof of identity and insurance, hospital visits, immunizations, and laboratory results. The service also helps the youths find needed health resources, such as clinics, physicians, and medical products. Nurses, professional youth advocates, and peer advisors known as “health ambassadors” assist the adolescents in finding services.
“Wind Youth Services” initially received a grant from the Sierra Health Foundation to cover the costs of adapting the software and implementing the service on a pilot basis. Grants for $50,000 and $100,000 were awarded to fund the development of pilot versions of “Healthshack” and to provide ongoing financial support to the program.
Later in 2009, project leaders received a $400,000 grant from United Health Group to cover the costs for developing further versions of the software. The funding enabled the full-scale implementation of “Healthshack”. Today the program is focused on marketing the program’s value to communities and is looking to find other community organizations to offer the program.
As for costs, the chief expense consists of the upfront development costs and the ongoing annual licensing fee for the software. Program-related staffing costs are minimal because the physicians and nurses volunteer their time, and youth advocates participate as part of their regular jobs, with health ambassadors receiving a small monthly stipend for serving as health ambassadors.
Go to www.innovations.ahrq.gov or to https://www.healthshack.info/Defautl.aspx for more details on the program.