The current healthcare system often makes it difficult to treat real issues. In a single day, a primary care provider sees dozens of patients during very brief visits. This leaves providers acting as filters for specialist care, unable to really connect with their patients or investigate beyond the most urgent symptoms to provide treatment that might otherwise be handled more efficiently “in-house.”
Instead, patients are shuttled between primary care providers and specialists, from facility to facility, making it more difficult to navigate their healthcare and receive the services they need.
Patients are left dissatisfied and less likely to see their primary care provider regularly, instead opting only to see a doctor when they’re so sick that a visit to acute care is necessary. The resulting “sick care” model is not only unhealthy, but extremely costly to patients, employers, and insurers. It also makes population health that much harder to manage.
Clearly, a better alternative is needed — one that actively improves patient care and outcomes, allows providers to practice medicine as they were trained to, and helps employers and insurers achieve better employee and member satisfaction while driving down healthcare costs.
Providing a single point of care — a location or team from which patients can receive most of their healthcare, treatment, and follow-up — not only presents a more convenient solution for managing population health, but a more effective one.
Centralized clinics, or care centers as we call them at Vera, make it easy for patients to form strong, trusting relationships with their primary care providers and the broader primary care team.
There are several significant benefits to this model of healthcare delivery, including:
A single primary care team, working together collaboratively in one place to support patient health, is better able to work from the same care plan. All have access to the most recent test results, treatment plans, and assessments, so the care they’re able to provide is consistent and comprehensive.
Care coordination is handled by the team as well, ensuring that patients can see a specialist when necessary, along with providing follow-up and integration of any additional medication or treatment. This helps to ensure that there are no gaps in communication or care and that all patient information flows back to a central point.
Additional services like health coaching and behavioral health augment the healthcare experience. Patients receive guidance and support to make lifestyle changes that allow them to take charge of their health and achieve better physical, mental, and psycho-social well-being.
Single point of care and population health
In the past, managed care was primarily intended to prevent adverse health outcomes for individual patients. Its success at helping to improve population health, however, relies on implementation and delivery.
Below are some common challenges to population health management and how a single point of care can help.
1) Ensuring patients see the right provider
Both primary providers and specialists want patients to come in for the appropriate care, however, not all care requires a specialist. In fact, primary care providers can deliver the majority of a healthcare a patient needs. But rather than going to primary care first, some patients instead schedule an unnecessary specialist visit.
Their reasons for doing so may be based on:
Feeling impeded by managed care (so they try to bypass it and go to a specialist directly)
Performing an internet search of their symptoms and deciding they need to see a specific type of doctor
Simply a lack of knowledge about what they should do or where they should go
A single point of care, where the primary provider can provide diagnosis and treatment for a wide range of issues, simplifies the problem of figuring out where patients should go with concerns about their health. And when a specialist is necessary, the primary team ensures that the patient gets the care they need and provides follow-up and the integration of any new treatment into the care plan.
2) Coordination of services
To be successful, population health management must “have strong care coordination...a model in which primary care is the hub that drives the right referrals when needed, but also quarterbacks the patient's care,” according to Kevin Wang, Chief Medical Officer at Vera Whole Health. This is made much easier for both patients and the care team when all visits, treatment, and other care is routed through a single point.
From the start, the primary care team attempts to make the most of their time with each patient. A single point of care allows for more effective testing and (in the case of care centers with on-site laboratories) analysis.
“We try to get as much information as possible pre-visit,” Wang says. “[For example], patient John Smith is coming in, he is 60 years old. He needs these three preventative screening measures. He also went to urgent care six weeks ago. We don't know why, but we need to follow up. The whole care team is already on the same page before the patient comes in.
“And then during the visit itself, we try to do as many necessary tests, procedures, or screenings as we can under one roof while we have that patient there. We try to do a lot of point-of-care tests at the patient's bedside.”
Keeping patients engaged
Getting patients to be excited about improving their health can be an uphill battle, especially if they don’t feel like they have the tools, knowledge, or support they need.
But when their single point of care includes a primary care team that provides outreach and follow-up, along with services like health coaching to help them achieve their goals, patients have an entire network in one convenient place to rely on when they have questions or need guidance.
The more engagement between patient and primary care team, the more data can be collected to better chart the patient’s needs and progress along with the rest of the managed population. With more accurate and thorough data, providers are better able to track risks and other factors that can then be addressed to improve population health even further.