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Solving healthcare’s last mile problem: 3 ways to better reach patients

2 months ago 32

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The pandemic greatly accelerated innovation across the entire healthcare industry, resulting in new ways to reach patients and virtual ways to deliver care. However, many Americans still lack access to care — whether it be because of cost, distance or an inability to understand the convoluted healthcare system.

To remedy this, providers and digital health companies should consider a few key priorities in their efforts to better reach patients. That was the message from a panel discussion during MedCity’s Invest Digital Health conference in Dallas on Wednesday.

Actually commit to value-based care

The speakers agreed that providers have to shift more of their payment models toward value-based care if they want to ensure more patients are able to access services and stick with their care plans.

“It’s completely absurd to me how you go see a doctor who’s going to make a decision when they don’t know and don’t care what the costs are,” said Max Cohen, CEO and co-founder of Sprinter Health. “You as the patient aren’t sure what’s going to happen. You’re probably employed by someone who you are paying some amount of money every two weeks, but you don’t know what is going to your premiums. And that company has hired a payer to then go and decide what actually happens.”

Value-based models are preferable to this method of pricing care because they are more transparent, aligning incentives with the quality of care that a patient receives, according to Cohen. While he argued a widespread shift to value-based care is desperately needed, he expressed doubt as to whether it will truly gain traction anytime soon, saying “value-based care has been two years away for 20 years.”

Cyril Philip, vice president of digital ventures at Bon Secours Mercy Health, agreed with Cohen’s sentiment. He pointed out that the majority of health systems’ revenue still comes from fee-for-service care, but acknowledged that hospitals are slowly shifting toward more value-based care models. Since these models focus on a patient’s entire care journey rather than simply charging for specific procedures and medications, they often help patients feel more comfortable with seeking ongoing care to maintain their health, Philip said.

Prioritize innovation even when times are tough

Health systems’ financial margins remain incredibly thin, but Philip argued hospitals should still be actively looking for healthcare startups to sign partnership agreements with. Hospitals that fail to prioritize innovation partnerships, such as programs for transportation assistance or home health, will fall behind in the future — these initiatives aren’t something you can just put off when times are tough financially, Philip argued.

“A decade ago, I might have said ‘We’ll just ride it out. We won’t do any investing, and then we’ll be okay on the back end.’ But now, if we don’t build those partnerships and try to bring in new solutions, we’ll be behind our competitors. We’ll start to lose patients, lose market share and lose our ability to do those value-based contracts,” he said.

Engage patients beyond their episodic care needs

Patients view the hospital as a place where care is provided, but it would be better if patients could view hospitals as wellness centers, according to Philip. Hospitals dedicate the vast majority of their improvement efforts into refining their acute care capabilities, but they could stand to spend more time understanding their patients’ day-to-day health outside of the times they need a surgery or get really sick, he said.

Zachary Clark, Uber Health’s head of growth couldn’t agree more. He said that our daily habits have much more of an effect on our overall health than the healthcare system would have us think, with how little it focuses on our behaviors outside of our providers’ offices. He claimed that Uber Health’s biggest opportunity to enact meaningful change may not actually be in transportation, but rather in the delivery of healthy food to communities who may otherwise lack access to it.

Photo: elenabs, Getty Images

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