Today is an exciting and impactful time to work in healthcare. Being a healthcare provider today means having the opportunity and the means to reach patients when and where they need care, regardless of the condition or setting. At first this sounds like a revolutionary advancement, and in many ways it is. But on further reflection, our current transformation involves returning healthcare to its roots.
Once upon a time, the doctor made a personal visit to your home and took care of you. Care focused on the patient and their family, whom the physician probably knew as well. And as a member of the same community, the doctor understood the patient’s social circumstances, resources, and barriers to optimal health.
We may no longer physically visit our patients in their homes as a routine part of our practice. However, technological and cultural advances now allow us to deliver healthcare in ways that engender that same sense of connection and reassurance. This means meeting patients where they are (at home, school, or work), involving their families, and treating the whole person.
Laying a Foundation for Sustainable Healthcare Innovation
Healthcare has never been regarded as a particularly nimble industry.
The shifts driven by COVID-19 throughout 2020 were long overdue and benefited patients and providers alike. At Vituity, our ED teams provided telehealth follow-up for discharged COVID-19 patients. We also teamed up with Adventist Health (California) to launch a 150-bed hospital-at-home program that delivered an inpatient level of care in the community. These programs not only satisfied patients but they also improved quality while saving money. As far as I’m concerned, community-based care is the way forward.
As I write this, the latest wave of COVID-19 is winding down. Our challenge now is to maintain momentum toward patient-first care. Our resources are unlikely to increase, so our task is to divide the pie in ways that allow us to work smarter, not harder. This could involve investing in on-demand telepsychiatry and teleneurology rather than maintaining costly call panels. Or it could mean taking mobile care teams or pop-up clinics directly to underserved communities.
In other words, let’s keep our foot on the gas pedal when it comes to innovation. This will mean empowering front-line providers (who know patients best) to lead. It will also involve a cultural shift for our health systems. But I believe that in the long run, the return on investment will be worth it.
Priorities in Patient Care for Patient-Centered Organizations
To best serve our patients, where should healthcare leaders focus attention and resources?
- First, we really need to blow up outdated beliefs and practices that no longer serve us. A lot of what we “know” about healthcare no longer holds true in our post-pandemic, patient-first reality. We must shift our culture so that we can release expectations like “I only see patients on weekdays” or “We can’t afford a case manager.”
- Second, we must strive for trust, respect, and accountability. This means not only putting patients first but ensuring they have the information they need to make wise decisions about their health and finances. As scary as it may sound, we must clearly report clinical outcomes and costs and engage in transparent decision-making.
- Finally, for us to successfully meet our patients’ needs, we need to fully welcome them as members of the care team. Everyone should be empowered to make their own decisions. We need to proactively partner with our patients and supply the expertise and tools they need to effectively manage their health.
Do I expect our efforts to proceed smoothly? Not at first. To achieve truly patient-centered care, we need to question beliefs and practices that have guided our organizations for decades. However, today’s healthcare leaders have a once-in-a-century opportunity to make a real difference in the health of our communities. Now let’s move forward with courage, knowing we’re all in this together.