First Choice prioritizes accessibility through telehealth benefits

Jaja Okigwe, CEO of First Choice Health
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As the new CEO of a healthcare provider-owned benefits company, Jaja Okigwe believed he was in the right position to address a common barrier to healthcare: Accessibility. His solution? Stop relying on brick and mortar appointments, and switch to digital.

“Getting and seeking care is so willfully complicated — there ought to be an easier way,” Okigwe says. “If you’re able to seek and get care when you need it, you’re likely going to be healthier. That has an impact on cost for people and their employers.”

Okigwe spoke to Employee Benefit News about how his company is utilizing telehealth to help remove the barrier to healthcare.

After two years as CEO, what are some things you’re putting into action that differentiate First Choice Health from other benefits providers?

A lot of people do the work we do: we process benefits for any employer with over 200 employees. But we’re unique because we’re provider owned; meaning we have better insights on getting healthcare. We’re in a really good position to make it work better, and I think we’ve made important strides in the past year through strategic partnerships that rethink what digital care means. There’s programs for weight management and diabetes on the market, but none of these things are addressing a real problem with healthcare — accessibility.

How are your partnerships providing accessibility to your clients?

What do you do if it’s 5 p.m. on a Friday and you have a strange rash, or trouble breathing? It takes too long to coordinate with a primary doctor to get care, and you don’t know if you should go to urgent care. But through our partnership with Rightway Healthcare, for example, members can easily find nearby urgent cares that are in-network. We also have a dedicated pod of people who personally answer health questions through text. They can advise you on where to go if you’re not sure which provider is appropriate. Calling 911 is your best option for an emergency.

We also partnered with 98point6 — an on-demand primary care service — to provide members access to primary care when they need it quickly, even though it’s not urgent. Through this program, patients are given a digital appointment with a primary care physician in two to five minutes. If they need it, we can also have something sent to the pharmacy the same day.

We’re also addressing behavioral health by partnering with BetterHelp. It’s really difficult to get a referral for someone in-network, and when you do the appointment is six to eight weeks out. Because of this partnership, we can find you someone who can make a digital appointment the same week.

What programs have been developed by First Choice Health?

We built the opioid program ourselves. We were tracking the whole opioid epidemic in the U.S., and started to provide the data to employers to help them see if they have a problem within their workforce. Our program also detects when an employee has outstanding prescriptions that are dangerous when combined with opioids — it alerts them to prevent accidental deaths. Doctors don’t always know about every prescription, and pharmacies don’t always check.

What are your plans for the future?

We’re working on other creative ways to get access to providers. We are in a partnership with health systems to figure out if there’s a new benefit to streamline the paperwork and process of getting surgery. Prior authorization can take weeks to straighten out. We’re trying to see if there’s a simpler approach to do that.

We test out new approaches on our own workforce. We’d like to be in position of adding to our portfolio every six months. Most companies don’t change their benefits more than once per year. But we do it every 60 days to add new benefits to test out.

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Telehealth Benefit management Healthcare innovations Healthcare industry Mental health