Cost remains patients’ number one barrier to care, and the situation will likely worsen. Health equity requires us to make healthcare more affordable and transparent.
Many patients struggle to pay for basic needs due to inflation and cuts to assistance programs like CHIP and SNAP. Millions who became eligible for Medicaid during the pandemic are now being removed from the program. And drug companies have dramatically raised prices on many common drugs.
Cost affects some patients more than others. People of color earn less than white workers in the same jobs, have fewer opportunities to accrue and transmit generational wealth, are less likely to own a home, and have fewer opportunities to borrow money at affordable interest rates.
The expansion of virtual care has opened up access for some, but it’s far from a magic bullet for healthcare equity.
As of 2019, one in four Medicare beneficiaries lacked access to a high-speed Internet connection at home. Older people and people of color are among those least likely to have broadband access. Overreliance on virtual care can actually worsen health disparities by deepening this digital divide.
As we expand virtual care, we must keep our less connected patients in mind. Ideally, healthcare will preserve a variety of access points (office visits, video visits, asynchronous communication) to meet patients’ diverse needs and preferences.
We must also remember that video visits aren’t the only way to extend care beyond hospital walls. Mobile clinics, home visits, and community partnerships can all help to connect doctors with patients who face access barriers.
To achieve true equity, we need to invest more resources in our underserved patients and populations — not to favor them over others but simply to help them achieve a baseline level of health.
When it comes to innovating care delivery, your greatest resources are likely right in front of you. Front-line providers are well-positioned to understand the community’s needs and where the gaps are. They can often see solutions to the problems that keep executives awake at night.
The connection between clinicians and patients is strengthened even further when our clinical workforce reflects the community we serve. This is why it’s important to hire locally when possible. While representation alone won’t end health disparities, research suggests that patients achieve better outcomes when seeing physicians who look like them.
The equity movement recognizes that everyone deserves the opportunity to achieve optimal health, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and other social determinants. A big part of our role as healthcare leaders is to lead this change, from advocating for fair policies to creating change within our organizations. By keeping health equity front and center, we help to promote dignity and quality of life for every patient.
Fundamentally, our healthcare system needs to find ways to deliver care how, when, and where patients want it. At Vituity, we call this concept "Health In Place," and it’s at the center of our strategy and decision-making.
Unlike other current delivery models, Health In Place strives to meet patients’ care preferences. This means serving some patients virtually, seeing others in hospitals and medical offices, and others in their homes and communities.
To ensure truly equitable care, we need to maintain open communication with our patients and communities. We must also keep our organizations agile and capable of responding to this feedback.
Driving Health Equity at Vituity
At Vituity we are deploying solutions to address the inequities we see every day.
Working with Hospitals to Meet Community Need
We work with our health system clients to design care solutions that address specific needs of their community. At some practice sites, we partner with local paramedics so they can treat acute illnesses in patients’ homes. And at others, we support mobile clinics and street medicine programs.
Using Technology to Lower Cost of Care
We leverage technology to increase acute care access. A great example is our teleneurology service, which provides virtual neurohospitalist and neurodiagnostic services. These capabilities used to be out of reach for all but academic medical centers. But we’re scaling them to be affordable even for small rural hospitals in areas where patients are often referred to facilities hours away.
Ensuring Patient Care Continuity
We are finding ways to prevent patients from falling through the cracks of our fragmented system. Patients who don’t have a regular medical home are especially at risk for care delays and disconnects. To this end, we’ll continue investing in models that ensure care continuity, like our ED telefollow-up program.