Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been breaking down our whitepaper, “Employers Pivot from COVID-19 Pandemic to Create Integrated Care Model of the Future” – so far, we’ve discussed five ways forward from the COVID-19 pandemic and highlighted the value of proactive population health management and outreach. This week, we’re focusing on the importance of expanding access to care.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve seen a rapid migration from in-person care to the adoption and acceleration of virtual care.

“At the start of March, approximately 90 percent of our patient visits were in-person at our health centers with the balance virtual care visits,” said Jeff Wells, president, Marathon Health. “By the end of March, that ratio had almost completely reversed with over 80 percent of our visits in a virtual model.”

What have we been doing to sustainably improve patient access to care and health outcomes during the pandemic?

  1. Continued outreach to patients. Our clinicians have delivered ongoing virtual care to patients. Patients were contacted early in the pandemic, prioritizing those at-risk and chronically ill. Clinicians also touched base about overall health and wellbeing, to see if prescription refills were needed, and to remind patients that with virtual care, the health centers remained “open”.
  2. A focus on behavioral health. Our providers have been available to check-in virtually and help members cope with the added stress brought on by the pandemic and the challenging environment.

The use of alternative delivery options is widely viewed as here to stay. Our patients have responded favorably to the virtual care option with more than 98 percent satisfied with their virtual visit experience. Providers must offer solutions that include care available in-person, by video, or telephone to ensure patients receive the care they need through the preferred and most practical modality.

Along with physical barriers to care access, another significant barrier is economic access to care.

The rise of Health Savings Account plan designs over the past decade has increasingly become viewed as exacerbating health inequities as lower wage earners are less able to afford the high out-of-pocket costs of care (until the large deductibles are satisfied) and are more inclined to defer or forgo care. In these situations, such individuals then are forced to receive care at much higher cost settings when symptoms and conditions progress to more clinically advanced and dangerous stages.

Employer health centers became, and remain, a more affordable and usually, especially during the pandemic, a more accessible option for high-quality primary care.

As discussed in our whitepaper – by analyzing and assessing both the physical barriers of access to care as well as the economic, employers and plan sponsors can better support the healthcare needs of their populations.

About the Author: Bruce Hochstadt

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EVP, Health Center Operations & Sales, Marathon Health

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