As of 2018, the US spent about 17% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on healthcare. In addition, the US spends, on average, two-and-a-half times more compared to a majority of other developed nations, while allocating almost 60% less on social services (https://stats.oecd.org). Not surprisingly, average life expectancy lags behind most European nations by more than two years.
Health and life expectancy are well documented as related to socio-economic, racial, and ethnic differences and that where you live in the US may be a factor in getting proper access to services. In fact, access to services early in a medical crisis can speed up resolution and avoid more costly interventions later on. And, more importantly, regular check-ups and preventive care are essential to improve overall health and quality of life and provide significant cost-saving measures. Therefore, spending on basic social services is sure to reduce the reliance on emergency services, which are quite costly and inefficient.
As someone with a passion for technology and who is working to turn that passion into a career, I would love to believe that technology can solve all of our problems. While there is no doubt that technology is at the core of a successful future within the healthcare industry, there are great opportunities in the private sector to provide basic low-tech, low-cost services that would truly enrich local communities, build communication and trust, and also provide cost savings to the healthcare system overall.
When people do not have a steady job or a livable wage, it becomes more difficult to eat and live healthily, afford medical care, and invest in their well-being. Understanding and addressing the underlying factors that determine community health does not always involve high-tech solutions. It may be as simple as partnering with community organizations to confront social issues and offer healthcare solutions to address them.
Affordable childcare, after school programs for school-age kids, and better nutritional education can all make a significant difference in the health outcomes of a community. Investment in social programs to provide these services is a great way to improve care without the need for investment in cutting edge technology.
Many patients, especially the elderly, may find it difficult to keep medical appointments because of a lack of transportation, especially in more rural communities or low-income neighborhoods. In this situation, offering shuttle services may improve compliance with regular check-up visits, or avoid late arrivals, which squeeze a medical provider’s already strained schedule even further. Services like this really can make all the difference in the world for some patients. A few years ago when my grandma was sick we were fortunate enough to have the time and resources to take her to every doctor’s appointment she needed to attend. Unfortunately, not everyone has that luxury. Had things been different for us, and if something as simple as a shuttle service not been available, my grandma would not have gotten the care that she needed.
Impersonal and rushed visits can stifle communication. Sometimes, low-cost solutions could be as simple as opening up a deeper communication line with a patient by scheduling extra time into a visit. Setting up a triage office where patients can connect with a medical staff member before their visit can help. Getting to know the patient and letting the person’s story naturally unfold may lead to why they are there and eventually to a diagnosis. Often, the source of the patient’s discomfort does not require expensive tests, but a deeper probe into the symptoms and medical history.
Creating a closer-nit community within and outside of the walls of your facility can turn a “business” transaction into a life-long interaction with a patient. Being an integral part of the community by sponsoring or participating in fundraising events, sporting events or other community activities not only increases the visibility of your practice, but it also makes it more “down to earth” and approachable, that personal touch that patients and community members are looking for.
Incentive programs that reward hospitals for improving the overall health of the communities they’re located in have shown strong results. These programs focus on preventative care and help lower hospitalization rates.
A 2019 report by the American Hospital Association (AHA), the Federation of American Hospitals (FAH), and the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) suggests that rising prescription drug prices combined with supply shortages for many critical medications negatively affect patient care and place an undue strain on healthcare providers’ operations and budgets. Therefore, supporting regulations limiting the cost of prescription drugs can significantly improve access to care, reduce the risk of hospitalization due to chronic issues going untreated, as well as provide cost-savings.
Getting to know and understand your community of patients is extremely important. As there are varying social determinants of health, your community may be significantly different from another. If you have several practices in different neighborhoods, you may have to tailor your approach to each community you work with. Knowing the socio-economic status of your patients, their living situation, their social challenges can help you better understand what programs may be more beneficial in your area and define specific goals.
As a society, we are trained to think with an immediate, measurable result in mind. However, this way of thinking forgets that the true measure of our success lies in the long-term results of our interventions. In the case of healthcare, the goal is an appreciable improvement of the health and well-being of the entire patient population we care for. Therefore, taking care of a community of patients should focus on long-term, long-lasting results. If we can influence patients’ behaviors over the long-term (i.e. improve hygiene standards by promoting access to clean water and sanitation, reduce the number of people that smoke or drink, improve nutrition, strengthen access to community services, combat stress, etc.), we can improve the overall health of our community and reduce healthcare costs and last-minute interventions.
Here at John Lynch & Associates, we pride ourselves as being part of the community where we live and work, and we have some great ideas on how your business can engage within your community. We have helped many of our clients make budget-minded and low-tech improvements that truly made a difference.
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