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Population Health Starts With Access to Care
October 29, 2019
Providers and Plans Must Unite to Achieve the Goals of Population Health Initiatives
March 23, 2019

Population Health Starts With Access to Care

Tashfeen Ekram, MD, is the co-founder and chief medical officer of Luma Health. He is also a practicing radiologist at the Redwood Radiology Group, specializing in chest imaging. In his role as chief medical officer, Dr. Ekram serves as a strategic customer contact to ensure the company’s patient relationship management system delivers optimal clinical workflows and meets the goals of Luma Health’s customers. Dr. Ekram completed his fellowship at Stanford Hospital and is a graduate of the University of Michigan Medical School. A Fulbright Scholar, Dr. Ekram spent 1 year in Jordan researching the effects of population displacement due to war, with a special focus on the impact on children.
As the healthcare industry shifts to value-based care models, providers are being asked to manage outcomes for their patient population while also managing a sustainable business. Under the value-based model, better outcomes lead to increased reimbursement, but there is a key point that healthcare providers and systems need to keep in mind: Outcomes start with access.

If patients don’t get the care they need—especially those with chronic conditions that require regular treatment—population health outcomes will not improve. Multiple studies have cited the influence access to care has on preventable hospitalizations. Patients with limited access to care, whether the barriers are geographic, financial, or cultural and linguistic in nature, are more likely to delay necessary care and, down the road, be hospitalized for their condition. 

One study based out of California found that patients with limited access to care suffering from at least 1 of 5 chronic conditions—asthma, hypertension, heart failure, pulmonary disease and diabetes—were significantly more likely to be hospitalized than patients with good access to care. Another study focusing on Medicare beneficiaries found similar results. Patients with limited access to care incurred greater costs through preventable admissions. By investing in access to care, providers will not only significantly move the needle on their patients’ health outcomes and downstream costs, they can meet their population health goals.

Access and quality are inseparable, so providers prioritizing population health goals can find success by starting from a solid foundation of patient access. So how can providers streamline access to care and directly influence population health? The answer lies with sophisticated patient engagement technology.

With 96% of US adults owning a cell phone, using mobile-first technology to improve access with patients across their healthcare journey has gained significant traction in recent years. Many providers already utilize text messaging for basic tasks such as appointment reminders. But there are a slew of other ways that the power of mobile technology can be harnessed to increase patient access to care and meet population health goals. Some examples of how mobile-first tech can be used to improve care access include:

Automating patient outreach. Patients demand quicker access to care, easy communication with their physicians and higher quality outcomes—and providers want to make this a reality. However, in the largest US metropolitan areas, patients still wait an average of 24 days to access care. Today’s new breed of mobile-first patient engagement technology confronts that challenge and increases patient access by keeping patients engaged throughout their care journey with automated outreach.

Nearly 2 years ago a top obstetric and gynecologic (OB-GYN) practice in North Florida and South Georgia implemented patient engagement technology to increase access for their patients. Patients were often waiting 20 minutes or more on hold to make at an appointment at the busy practice. If a patient had to cancel or reschedule their appointment, calling into the practice and waiting on hold often proved too inconvenient. Patients would no-show rather than stay on hold to find a new open slot. Furthermore, the OB-GYN practice was constantly playing phone tag with referred patients, trying to find time to get them on the phone and determine the best appointment slot.

After deploying patient engagement technology that integrated with their electronic health record (EHR), the Florida OB-GYN practice was able to drive results in access to care. A text-first approach to communication reduced their phone volume dramatically, allowing patients to confirm, cancel, or reschedule their appointment without waiting on hold. Additionally, automating outreach to referred patients meant they were able to see a 25% increase in referred patients, connecting women to needed healthcare services. By extending the capacity of their staff, and offering a new level of convenience for the women they serve, the practice significantly increased access to care. Bringing more women in for care means they are now getting the preventive and ongoing services they need to get and stay healthy.

Offering online scheduling. Patients are healthcare consumers, and they increasingly crave the same type of consumer-level experiences they are used to in other walks of life. Just think of how easy it is to schedule a flight, book a hotel, or buy a movie ticket online with a few simple clicks. Scheduling an appointment with a doctor should be no more difficult for patients.

Providers can ensure access with web scheduling widgets that empowers patients to make appointments anytime and anywhere. The technology allows patients to seamlessly schedule their own appointments while offering real-time availability via a website or mobile. And once the appointment is made, the provider's schedule is automatically updated.

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