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Readers Write: Alert: Three Keys to Navigating the Traffic Ahead on the Road to Healthcare Access

May 24, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

Alert: Three Keys to Navigating the Traffic Ahead on the Road to Healthcare Access
by Karly Rowe

Karly Rowe, MBA is VP of patient access, identity, and care management products at Experian Health of Franklin, TN.


For any of us who use GPS when we drive, hearing the robot voice warn “alert, traffic ahead” is all too familiar, and usually followed by suggestions for alternate routes to our destinations. In our industry, however, there is only one road, and it’s about to get more crowded, complex, and nuanced. To help patients navigate their way through healthcare in the future, the industry is going to need to innovate.

As the economy emerges from the pandemic, there are dramatic changes in people’s lives and many industries are having to transform their operations in significant ways. For healthcare, we are going to see a changed landscape or, to put it more bluntly, there’s serious traffic ahead.

The impact on employment has been no less than stunning. Data earlier this year revealed that 78 million initial jobless claims had been filed with the Labor Department during the pandemic (that’s almost half of the country’s workforce), and that we had lost more than 10 million jobs. For those of us who remain employed, almost fourth-fifths are working differently, mostly notably through working from home.

These dramatic changes create new barriers impacting patients’ ability to access. Their coverages have changed or been lost entirely, as has their willingness to seek care in the face of their financial situations or other barriers, such as language, and their ability to do so is often impeded (this is especially true for underserved populations). Patient needs have and will also change as they contend with long-haul conditions and Americans in general learn to manage the mental health effects (about half of us have experienced such impacts already) of time in isolation and with limited human contact.

The volume of this transformation is itself a change, and a big one.

The impacts of technology on healthcare should no longer be called revolutionary, but rather the norm, as the pandemic has accelerated the transformation that was already underway. The market for wearables is expected to reach $81.5 billion this year, which is an 18% increase from a year ago. Individuals are using these technologies to manage their own health and the data are factored into a majority of wellness programs. The promise and peril of aggregating and applying these new sources of data aren’t news to you, whether in technical, administrative, or compliance terms. My point is that it’s an unavoidable component of that traffic we face going forward.

And the sheer volume of that component, to the tune of thousands of exabytes in growth annually, is a big one, too.

The road ahead is going to be tough since there are no alternate routes we can take. So, I say we embrace that clarity and apply it to three key areas of work that will help us navigate it:

Invest in tech

Challenging times challenge us to innovate, and it is clear that our systems (the “road” in my analogy) aren’t built to accommodate the changes I noted above. Telehealth is one area that shows immense promise, as patients have grown accustomed to remote interaction during the pandemic. Simply put, getting to a website can be far easier than making an office appointment, and relegating certain diagnostics to remote engagement can be more cost efficient. Integrating that data across touchpoints are important, as is exploring ways to make telemedicine available and attractive to vulnerable populations (the traffic is there, thanks to patients added due to COVID-19, so think about adding lights at entrance ramps to highways to ease traffic access and flow).

Use data to drive patient engagement

It might seem counterintuitive but the engagement and resulting data from interactions beyond the four walls of the clinic can be crucial to better health outcomes. To apply my traffic metaphor again, it’s not necessarily the volume of data, or traffic, that is the problem. Rather, it’s that the lines on the road need to be clearer. According to the Sequoia Project, about 12% of demographic data become outdated within a year due to such facts as 70% of married women change their names. Further, almost a third of that data are misspelled, incomplete, or incorrect. The challenges of consistent and reliable patient identifiers are nothing new, but they take on new currency when the challenges dependent on them increase and become more complex. Today’s solution helps preclude tomorrow’s “traffic” problems.

Don’t make the traffic worse

Patients’ healthcare journeys do not all travel the same road, but rather merge and exit at a number of points, many of which aren’t necessarily traditional sources of health services (and therefore new sources of health-related data). The technologies exist to connect patients to food banks, shelters, counseling services, and community programs, which may serve to lessen the overall impact on traffic. Then, by connecting those services, you can learn more about them and their needs. Insisting that there’s only one way to get to a desired destination – as if there were a single express lane – is old thinking, while considering the opportunities to provide patients with multiple routes while connecting the resulting data and insights into a single, overarching view (a GPS picture, if you will), may be the pathway forward.

We have a clear picture of what the road ahead looks like. While we can’t choose a different route, we can use technologies and tools to make the traffic flow better, faster, and more safely. Times of massive change are challenging, but they can also be inspiring.  We can embrace this opportunity to take our industry where it needs to go.

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