By Colin Roberts, Vice President, West Corporation
As today’s healthcare payment models increasingly shift from volume to value, there is intense focus on measuring outcomes. But too often, these measurements rely solely on clinical data, and fail to take into account the 360-degree view of the patient. Healthcare organizations must take into account the social, cultural, and demographic determinants of health to achieve a 3-D picture of the patient that will truly support decisions around care. Healthcare organizations should strive to be the ‘IMAX of Patient Care,’ taking a multi-dimensional view of the patient, including a holistic view of the patient’s lifestyle and any barriers to treatment.
For instance, many organizations are putting significant resources towards diabetes care management programs, to spur better self-management on a day-to-day basis in between visits to the doctor. But it’s important to remember that a given patient is not just a diabetic. They may have co-morbidities, for instance, they could also suffer from depression, impeding their ability to successfully manage their diabetes. In addition, it’s important to understand the context within which the patient lives. For instance, do they live in a food desert where it is difficult to find fresh produce and other healthy foods? Do they have transportation, child care, or elder care challenges that may get in the way of a regular exercise program? All of these factors may affect how successful any diabetes care management program can be.
Consider other dimensions
Healthcare organizations won’t learn any of this important context by merely focusing on one dimension, a diabetic patient’s A1c level. Testing patients’ blood glucose level has become the gold standard of measuring diabetes outcomes for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and for many payers. It does a good job of measuring the long term risks of complications from high blood sugar, but it doesn’t capture low blood sugar, which can be fatal for diabetics in the short-term. An A1c of less than 6.5 percent or 7 percent is the goal for most patients, but this doesn’t take into account the patient’s age, length of time with the disease, and other dimensions.
To truly lower both short-term and long-term risks for complications from diabetes, and most importantly, to improve patients’ quality of life, there is a simple solution. Healthcare providers have to talk to patients. Not just during those harried appointments in the office, but throughout the days, weeks, and months in between. These touchpoints should be at consistent intervals and should aim to glean context from a standardized set of questions.
Monitor continuously using automation
The challenge is that this kind of continuous monitoring of multiple markers of health is resource-intensive. Doctors, nurses, and care managers are taxed as it is. Automation can help to both standardize and personalize the healthcare communications experience.
One of the best ways to start to develop that IMAX view of the patient is to understand the patient’s preferred method of communication and to start to engage with him or her in the way he or she prefers. Some patients may prefer one-on-one health coaching over the phone, but increasingly, patients say they are looking for digital solutions to their healthcare needs. For instance, a recent survey found that 62 percent of baby boomers are already leveraging newer ways to engage with healthcare providers. This may mean using an online health portal, or responding to interactive text messages that prompt healthy behaviors or remind patients that they can reach out for help and advice.
Capture a 3-D view of your patient
Healthcare providers will continue to focus on quantitative measures to establish patients’ health status, and that’s as it should be. But let’s not “overvalue the things we can measure and undervalue the things we cannot”, as a former American Express executive, John Hayes, once said. The truth is that to have a meaningful impact on healthcare outcomes, we need both quantitative and qualitative health data. And in order to truly capture the 3-D view of the patient, it takes an ongoing commitment to listening. To scale communications resources effectively, healthcare organizations need to partner with technology platforms that can greatly increase the number of touchpoints with patients, without adding to the burden on healthcare providers. We at West Healthcare stand ready to be that partner.