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Blog: Will NowPow Referral System Fly with Service Providers?

This blog by THT Population Health Program Manager Jessica Burnett highlights our HARP research project supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

This must be how the Wright Brothers felt. 

They knew their airplane could make travel easier and faster – but it took a while to convince others.

Talking with community organizations about NowPow, I sometimes feel like Wilbur or Orville, expounding on the wonderful benefits of this great tool only to be met with skepticism and refrains of “but we’ve always done it this way.”

NowPow is an online tool that helps care providers address economic and social conditions affecting an individual’s health and well-being. NowPow users can log-in to the community resource directory and referral platform to see what local agencies can best meet a client’s needs, immediately refer the client for assistance, and then follow up on results. 

It seems like such a good idea; yet questions remain. 

Trenton Health Team is researching why some community organizations who could benefit the most from such a tool are reluctant to adopt it. The Highlighting and Assessing Referral Program Participation (HARP) project, launched in May 2020 and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, identifies barriers preventing local community organizations from participating in NowPow and aims to design solutions and incentives to encourage participation.  

After interviewing a number of Trenton community organizations and several organizations in other parts of the country implementing similar referral management tools, we discovered the tremendous effort required for community based organizations to fully adopt referral management technologies. We learned that for many organizations, the perceived value of these technologies is not enough to outweigh the perceived costs of implementation in terms of training time and the effort needed to integrate a new tool into existing ways of doing things.

For most Trenton social service agencies, pre-existing relationships with other organizations and existing workflows are perceived as “good enough” At the same time, however, many of the people we spoke with acknowledged the value of a centralized community resource directory as, prior to NowPow, there was no centralized place to find up-to-date information about local resources. However, those interviewed voiced concerns about making electronic referrals to unfamiliar organizations without an already established track record or relationship. 

When we suggested a financial incentive would encourage use of the data tool, many of those interviewed disliked the idea of accepting monetary rewards for doing their jobs. Instead, they suggested other strategies to address their concerns such as more training and technical support, opportunities to meet other NowPow users, access to a central intake/referral hub, better explanation about how the tool assists their work and linking more agencies through NowPow. 

We listened. And now we are pilot-testing four strategies and measuring the impact on NowPow use: sharing monthly data insights reports, establishing a referral hub, tailoring training to address specific needs, and a local marketing campaign highlighting how NowPow has benefited Trenton organizations and the clients they serve.

We started sharing monthly data insights reports in mid-June and the referral hub is slated to launch late-July. Over the next three to six months we will continue to test these two strategies and are gearing up to deploy intensive tailored training in late August and closing out the year with a marketing campaign. We look forward to sharing more about each strategy and our findings in future blog posts as launch continues.

Let’s see how it flies.

Learn more about our NowPow users and services they provide.  For more information, please contact Jessica Burnett