Groups Recover Together Evolves VBC Model to ‘Technology-Assisted Treatment’

Groups Recover Together revealed a new care model it calls “technology-assisted treatment.”

On Tuesday, the opioid-use disorder (OUD) treatment provider said it struck three deals with tech companies to make it happen. One is Owl Labs, a Boston-based business collaboration technology company. The company has not named the two other partners.

The new tech-heavy model represents an evolution of its value-based care strategy. Founded in 2014, the company exclusively operates on value-based care arrangements. Groups Recover Together provides medication-assisted treatment and hybrid group therapy.

Over the last three years, the company identified “imperfect access” to technology as a primary barrier to care, Cooper Zelnick, the company’s chief growth officer, told Behavioral Health Business.

So, the company has decided to ensure technology is never a reason for people to not seek or continue care. This new program goes as far as providing members in need with cell phones and tablets.

“We are saying it is our responsibility to arm people with the technology they need to succeed,” Zelnick said. “We’ve always felt that it’s our responsibility to deliver the services [members] need to succeed — which crazily enough is not the industry standard.

“We are now taking a position that, with technology, the provider needs to shoulder that burden. That is the spirit of technology-assisted treatment.”

Groups Recover Together’s value-based care model has always placed the onus of successful care on the company, not the member, Zelnick added.

The tech behind technology-assisted treatment

Groups Recover Together has outfitted all group meeting rooms with systems from Owl Labs. These include AI-powered cameras and monitors to facilitate hybrid group meetings. This will allow people to meet with their group in person or via telehealth.

About 30% of Groups Recover Together’s 13,000 members live 50 or more miles from one of its more than 150 offices. This makes telehealth, and therefore access to digital devices, essential for care.

The company has also outfitted its offices with tablets that automate patient intake, facilitate telehealth visits and provide 24/7 check-ins with its all-hours support center.

Groups Recover Together’s two unnamed partners provide members with free cell phones and with tablets.

The cell phone partner provides free smartphones and service plans through the so-called “Obamaphone” program.

Officially, the Federal Communications Commission in 1985 launched a program called Lifeline. It provides low-income Americans with phone services. Americans qualify for free phones based on need and vulnerability. The Obama administration included internet-enabled cell phones in the FCC’s purview, hence the name.  

Unlike the phone program, Groups Recover Together will pay to give members tablets. Zelnick said the tablet partner is “one of the world’s largest companies and a very recognizable name.”

“These investments are aligned with our broader mission to bring Group’s life-saving treatment model to all who need it,” Colleen Nicewicz, CEO of Groups Recover Together, said in a news release. “We’re confident our investments in technology-assisted treatment will help more people sustain their recovery from the chronic disease of addiction.”

Expanding value-based care and the company

The company has offices in 16 states, is licensed in 20 and has plans to operate in 26, Zelnick said.

Since 2017, the company has raised at least $98.2 million, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. This includes a $60 million Series C funding round that was announced in May 2021.

At the end of 2021, Groups Recover Together treated 9,000 members across 13 states and expanded its leadership team to accommodate the growth. Its business was founded around value-based care.

Groups Recover Together seeks to lead the behavioral health industry toward greater use of care and quality outcomes.

While it has improved, the behavioral health sector has been slow to adopt the technology that supports value-based care.

About 37% of private mental health organizations that take Medicaid use electronic health records (EHRs). Additionally, 32% of private substance use disorder treatment providers accepting Medicaid use EHRs, according to a report by the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC).

Further, the industry lacks a common set of care and quality outcomes or means of measuring them.

“If you think about our industry when it comes to outcomes, it’s a backwater,” Zelnick said. “Outcomes are opaque at best and not good — outcomes are crappy.”

While patient retention in outpatient addiction treatment is a “north star,” it’s not clear what the best way and the best levels of care should be, Zelnick said.

Apart from embracing technology-assisted treatment, Zelnick said that Groups Recover Together will seek to identify and ameliorate other barriers to care.

“For example, if the data show that food insecurity is a primary driver of dropout, you’re going to see us buying organic strawberries,” Zelnick said. “That’s how we are thinking about the future of the organization.”

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