Conducting population health management is challenging for most health care entities. Doing it during the COVID-19 pandemic makes it exponentially more difficult.
Provider support of chronic care patients has been achieved via telehealth more over the past year than ever before. This is an exciting improvement, but it comes at a price – screenings for both adults and children have declined steeply due to the pandemic. According to the Epic Health Research Network, EHR data showed an abrupt drop of between 86 and 94 percent in preventive cancer screenings performed across the United States in spring 2020 compared to 2017-2019 historical averages.
Developing a New Approach to Population Health
Being able to manage a population during a pandemic takes, at the very least, a new strategy. That’s due to the fact that there’s new data available about the impact on health care of social determinants of health (SDOH). As realized during the COVID-19 pandemic, poor communities suffer more than their more affluent counterparts during a pandemic.
Discussions of population health management often focus on the analytics or interventions needed to carry it out. Although those are certainly relevant, there are three additional components that must be considered to successfully operationalize a population health strategy.
It’s no secret that the health care landscape can be fragmented and confusing for patients to navigate. A population health approach restructures that landscape by proactively engaging and managing patients. It anticipates needs from the patient perspective and addresses them in a timely manner.
In this approach, a patient is asking what they need to do and how it should be done. Without the proper support during difficult times, though, patients can become overwhelmed and abandon their better choices. That’s why effective navigation is not only key to successful patient outcomes but also positively impacts the patient experience by reducing anxiety.
It’s human nature to ask why something should matter to us. Therefore, patient education can be a long and difficult process. Being succinct in patient communication mitigates the possibility of a message getting lost in the noise. Similarly, education that is motivational and occurs at consistent intervals – not only during an in-office doctor’s appointment – is most consumable.
This principle is centered on the study of psychology as it relates to the economic decision-making processes of individuals and institutions. By anticipating needs patients experience along the health care continuum, providers can proactively address those needs and build trust in the process.
Providers developing a population health strategy in the pandemic era should ask three key questions:
1. How will you meaningfully re-engage and reach patients?
Utilizing text messaging for patient outreach accomplishes a couple of things. One, it enables patients to engage with their provider when it’s most convenient. Creating targeted messages that convey action items and the reason(s) for them offers value to patients beyond some sort of general past-due reminder.
Second, text messaging creates scale outreach efforts and eliminates the need for front-office practice staff to manually contact each patient. It increases the likelihood of successfully reaching a patient, especially compared to the more costly option of repeated phone calls and mailed letters.
By using CareMessenger, Providertech’s secure two-way texting tool, physician practices can address patient questions in real-time and promote patient engagement. They also gain the ability to improve efficiency by decreasing inbound call volume and close gaps in care with clinical outreach.
2. How will you build trust with your patients?
The amount of misinformation circulating during the pandemic has been staggering. Health care providers have had to continually dispel these myths during this time and reorient patients to scientific research. Despite these valiant efforts, some of the general population still has a lack of trust in recommended COVID-19 precautions and a hesitancy to get the FDA-approved vaccines.
The good news is that, for most individuals, their most trusted source for information on the COVID-19 vaccine is their primary care physician. That trust is key to getting more people in the U.S. vaccinated. Conducting proactive outreach with Providertech’s vaccine management communication tool leverages that trust while incorporating the navigation, education, and behavioral economics components to engage patients, anticipate their concerns or hesitancy and proactively educate them on the topic.
3. How will you address screenings and care that have been missed due to the pandemic?
At Providertech, we collaborate with our clients to use HIPAA-compliant text messaging to send engaging messaging with a clear call to action. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve worked with them to distribute messages echoing the current public health landscape.
Telehealth was a new form of care for many patients, and clear communication via text helped to ensure they knew they could utilize it to remain engaged in their care. For our chronic disease patient populations, that meant employing secure messaging to encourage them to schedule a virtual visit to stay safe and maintain social distancing. For other clients, we assisted by helping them create texts with information for patients on how to stay up-to-date on routine screenings without risking exposure in the office setting.
Some Providertech clients used our secure texting technology to offer a home screening kit for colorectal cancer or a mammography requisition to patients who had been in the office for a visit within the past 12 months. They could safely have these resources sent directly to their home. In only one week, one physician practice received responses from more than 450 patients about procuring the colorectal cancer screening kit.
Population health consists of individual health care interactions that share many similarities, thereby consuming considerable resources. A well-designed population health approach offers scale for those similarities and individual interactions in order to support unique patient needs. Schedule a demo with one of our talented team members to learn more!