We learned a lot about the dangers of not having accessible healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. Although there are many reasons patients can’t, or won’t, go to a doctor in general, this whole experience underlines the dangers of what happens when they don’t even have that option. Patients’ health suffers negatively, as chronic conditions go unmanaged and often worsen, patients don’t receive routine tests and screenings, and they don’t engage in regular examinations and health conversations with their primary physician.
Independent practices suffer, too. Few had backup plans in place to continue to provide needed care without a continued stream of patients coming to the office on a regular basis. Staff members had to be fired or furloughed, hours were cut, and salaries were slashed as revenue fell precipitously. Many that may have already been on the brink financially felt they had no choice but to simply close the doors and move on.
Of course, that is not the future we would like to envision for the independent practice. Regardless of what happens over the next few months with the pandemic, the practices which survive and come out stronger on the other side will be those which manage to take the lead in making healthcare more accessible for their patients.
Why Isn’t Healthcare More Accessible?
In a perfect world, patients would all have access to healthcare, would have routine visits with their healthcare providers, and would be more interested in becoming partners in building better lifestyles. But reality says that simply is not the way it is. Here are some factors that impact reasons patients provide for not going to the doctor:
One reason often cited for lack of healthcare is lack of insurance; however, the Affordable Care Act has actually done a pretty good job of making healthcare affordable. As of June 2021, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) data show more Americans than ever have health coverage. Although that does still leave millions of people without any type of coverage, it does not account for disparities seen at the provider level.
Some patients are just plain afraid of seeing a doctor. They may be afraid of bad news, feel uncomfortable about medical procedures, or be embarrassed about their body or medical conditions. Many of these feelings could be overcome by a positive outreach that educates patients about the modern, patient-centered approach to care.
Lack of Understanding
Other patients just do not understand how important it is to maintain a regular schedule of interaction with the healthcare community, or how important it is for them to become a vested partner in managing their own care. Although most patients do try to manage their symptoms, stories abound of those who won’t follow their weight management plan, refuse to take their blood pressure medication, or fail to monitor their glucose readings. Without a plan in place to work hand in hand with a provider, these cases gradually spiral out of control.
Difficulty of Dealing with The Medical Community
Managing smooth interactions with patients can be a challenging process, to say the least. Patients may not be able to talk to a person from the medical office to get an answer to routine questions, without making an appointment. Information is difficult to share between medical providers, specialists, test facilities, and testing labs. Often the patient is asked to provide the same information repeatedly because there is no one single data source. When there is a hospital stay or emergency room visit, critical information is often not relayed quickly to the primary physician for follow-up care.
The elderly segment of the population often has difficulty finding transportation. They may no longer drive, and might have to rely on caregivers, public transportation, or senior transport services. Patients with a physical disability, or those with no transportation, also face the same issues. This makes it difficult for the patient to keep appointments.
Some patients may fail to understand or follow doctor directives because the provider has a poor communication skill set, but often the patient is the one having difficulty due to a language barrier, hearing disorder, or cognitive function. Follow-up instructions are not understood and could endanger the patient’s health.
The Future of Virtual Health and Remote Care
“As virtual health gains momentum, it is becoming a core component in helping consumers improve or maintain their well-being, as well as playing an increasingly important role in the diagnosis and treatment of illness.”
The pandemic provided a peek into what could be achieved by making healthcare more accessible, but there is still a long way to go. As COVID was just settling in by April 2020, Deloitte published a look into the future of virtual care. Many of its insights became profoundly prophetic as time wore on, and some implementation timeframes may be pushed up even further. Their projections:
- By the year 2040, empowered consumers, radically interoperable data, and scientific and technological advances will transform the health care system we know today.
- Virtual health will be a key component of our future of health care.
- Virtual health will have the capacity to inform, accelerate, personalize, and augment prevention and care.
- At least a quarter of all preventive care, outpatient care, long-term care, and well-being services will move to virtual delivery by 2040.
- Next-generation data and interoperability solutions will enable widespread data sharing.
- Remote patient monitoring will be integrated with care delivery, resulting in a more tailored, personalized virtual health experience for patient consumers.
Those interviewed for the study believe that virtual care can provide value in five ways:
- Enhanced care coordination
- Improved clinical outcomes
- Better patient consumer experience
- Increased efficiency
- Expanded access
Making Healthcare More Accessible at the Independent Practice Level
“We are open-minded and self-critical to allow for continual refinement of our plans.
I love that, because it’s decisive and it gets things done.”
Although the independent practice does not have a huge say in what goes on about making insurance and healthcare more affordable at the national level, there is a lot you can do within the confines of your practice to make it more accessible for your patient population. Studies demonstrate that telehealth, remote monitoring, and improved care at home tactics can improve health and reduce the time patients spend in the hospital for chronic illness management. Here are a few suggestions you can use:
Rethink Convenience Factors
It might be time to think outside the box of one location with set office hours. There are many ways care can be provided without adhering to rigid structures. With increased technology, an independent practice can look at setting up a clinic in a remote area, providing in-home visits, or offering more weekend and evening hours. Instead of just having an answering service that forwards calls, think about the possibility of using a Virtual Preventative Care Assistant. Amazing Charts now offers the opportunity to include external remote care services in your patient care kit by adding remote staff, or contracting out existing staff, to reduce labor costs while maintaining patient continuity.
Provide More Ways to Receive Care
Many patients are returning to the office now, but there is still a certain percentage that has not yet embraced a full return to their old routines. This can be addressed by building a balance between in-person and virtual care appointments. Telehealth solutions can increase the ability of your practice to remotely deliver in-home patient care that is comparable to an in-office visit. You and your medical staff can quickly and easily initiate telehealth video conversations and maintain logs of those chats and videos for billing and audit purposes. Telehealth can help to expand your practice by extending access to seniors, those living in rural areas, low-income and high-risk individuals.
Improve Patient Education
Take a good look at your website and think about the quality of the information you provide to patients there. Your website should not just be a place to read your bio, download health history forms, or access the patient portal. Use it to provide patient education on all the ways you work to make healthcare accessible. Blogs, web pages, videos and social media can help to dispel some of the fears and provide education as to how to benefit from telehealth and digital technology. Provide information that helps patients go from “I’m afraid” or “I don’t know how” to “Oh, I get it. Let’s give this a try.”
Engage in Remote Patient Monitoring
This has proven to be an extremely effective way of providing chronic care management to the at-risk populations. Patients use a digital device such as an oximeter or a glucose monitor to take readings and transmit them to your office. Abnormal responses are flagged for further review, and a staff member is trained to follow-up with the patient to make necessary adjustments in the care plan.
Be Open to New Ways of Communication
Look at some of the new ways you can use secure text messaging, email, or the patient portal to provide information. Educate patients about what to do in case of emergency, then assign someone or set some time aside each day to manage these more routine requests. Use e-Prescribing to manage patient medications quickly and accurately.
Get Better at Charting
Current advances in Electronic Health Records (EHR) make smoother charting a breeze. Components of the latest comprehensive EHR systems include easy charting capabilities and templates to maximize provider time, better scheduling capabilities, and a patient portal for enhanced communication purposes. They also help build to the interoperability goal of being able to share information quickly and easily within the medical community.
Improve Your Billing
This might seem like an odd way to improve access but think about the patients who don’t come in because they have problems with their insurance or Medicare reimbursement. Staff time is often wasted in responding to and following-up on billing issues. Amazing Charts offers a professional Medical Billing Service that is a fully integrated Revenue Cycle Management service which handles the hassles of billing for you, and at a more affordable rate than most third-party billers. Your practice could experience an increase in collections, a higher rate of claims paid on first submission, and a quicker time to payment with your payers and patients.
Motivate Your Team Members
Team members may be limiting accessibility without even realizing it. Every time they tell a patient about office hours, or every occasion where they say, “someone will get back to you” and nobody does, are all instances that make people think twice about working to improve their relationship with you. Let staff know that they play an important role. Ask them about their concerns, find out what questions they are asked most often, and solicit their input as to how you can make changes that will benefit the practice and your patients.
You don’t have to sit there and watch helplessly as patients cancel appointment after appointment, or see mega-practices poach patients from your practice. You have benefits to offer as an independent practice, and you can use them to your advantage to provide the kind of intimate, one-on-one patient care and education that just can’t be found in other care settings.
Healthcare Technology Solutions Designed By and For Independent Practices
Amazing Charts was founded in 2001 by a practicing family physician to help medical practices thrive. We have grown consistently since then by creating easy-to-use solutions for delivering patient care. Today, we offer a variety of additional capabilities designed to help independent practices succeed, including Electronic Health Records, Practice Management, Billing Services, Population Health and Remote Care. Call 866-382-5932 to learn about our products, schedule a practice consultation, and learn more about telehealth pandemic lessons that can help your independent practice grow.