No Patient Left Behind: Three Critical Initiatives to Support FQHC Patient Health

Perhaps now more than ever, the role of Community Health Centers and Federally-Qualified Health Centers (FQHC) is exceedingly important. 

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve witnessed a decrease in patient access to all types of care. In-person care has been shut down or restricted and is only now starting to resume in a measured fashion; in response, clinics have implemented telehealth care options but many patients have yet to take advantage.

Reduced access to care will likely have serious implications for health outcomes across all socio-economic brackets, but this trend is particularly concerning for the FQHC population who are already considered at-risk.

According to the CDC, older adults and people with underlying medical conditions are most at risk for serious illness associated with COVID-19. And research suggests that populations served by FQHCs face a high burden of chronic disease. As FQHC patients face deteriorating health status due to their chronic conditions going unmonitored and untreated, they are simultaneously at an increased risk of serious complications from COVID-19 infections.

FQHCs need a way to care for their patients in spite of the pandemic. This means spearheading initiatives that:

• Make sure patient communication is far-reaching and effective;

• Promote telehealth and leverage it productively; and 

• Make necessary in-person appointments safer to encourage patients to seek the care they need. 

Helping FQHC patients maintain their health status and quality of life is critical in the fight against COVID-19. By solving for the three requirements above, you can dramatically improve the quality of care you provide to your patients in these unprecedented times — which in turn helps you to maintain the funding metrics you need to operate. 

Initiative 1: Communicate with Patients in Their Preferred Mode: Via Text

96 percent of Americans own a cell phone, while 74 percent own a desktop or laptop computer. Only 56 percent of low-income and 63 percent of rural Americans — two of the key demographics served by FQHCs — have access to broadband internet at home. This, combined with data that shows patients much prefer text messages to phone calls, suggests that when it comes to communication, text-based communications are the way to go.

Communicating via text allows you to check in with your patients to keep them engaged with their providers. Patients don’t need a smartphone with a special app to receive HIPAA-compliant messaging; use text messages to invite them to make a telehealth appointment, complete a survey about their health status, or share important health promotion information.

The results are in — patients love text! Get the details in this infographic

Alexander Valley Health Center, an FQHC located in Northern California, was struggling to connect with their attributed patient population before adopting a mobile-first communication strategy: 67 percent of their phone calls were going unanswered, and the health center was losing out on over $650,000 of annual revenue each year. Since shifting their outreach to text-based communications, the results have been astonishing: preventive care screenings increased by 30 percent, and they were able to increase their patient reach by 15 percent using Spanish-language texts.

By using Spanish-language texts, Alexander Valley Health Center increased preventive care screenings by 30 percent. 

The results for Salud Family Health Centers in Colorado are similarly impressive. In the first month of using text-based outreach, they were able to schedule in 1,556 additional appointments — and 74 percent of messages delivered received a patient response. 

“Implementing Luma Health’s automated text outreach and online scheduling systems enabled us to connect with more patients and get them through our doors. Our results after switching to text messages exceeded our expectations — we successfully scheduled an additional 1,556 appointments during just one month of outreach,” explained Josh Smith, VP of IT for the Health Center.

“Implementing Luma Health’s automated text outreach and online scheduling systems enabled us to connect with more patients and get them through our doors. Our results exceeded our expectations — we successfully scheduled an additional 1,556 appointments during just one month of outreach.”

Josh Smith, VP of IT for Salud Family Health Centers

Initiative 2: Take Advantage of What Telehealth Has to Offer

The forced transition to telehealth has been challenging for practitioners and patients alike, but it has also created several unanticipated benefits that make the delivery of care easier, particularly for the FQHC population.

Research from Harvard Medical School found that the average doctor’s visit consumed 121 minutes in a patient’s day: 37 minutes in travel time, 64 minutes waiting for care or filling in forms, and only 20 minutes face-to-face with the doctor. And because many FQHC patients rely on public transportation or friends and family to transport them to their care appointments, it’s not hard to imagine how quickly this time can add up, especially for rural populations. 

The reality is, seeking care at the FQHC can be time consuming for patients — many have to miss an entire day of work just to get themselves or their family members in for appointments. Telehealth removes the transportation time associated with healthcare visits, and allows your patients to reduce or eliminate the time associated with travel and waiting. A doctor’s appointment with telehealth is no longer an all-day commitment, but rather a 20 minute conversation that can take place wherever the patient is located.

In addition, telehealth makes it easier to address the language barrier that some patients may face. Family members or translators can easily join a telehealth visit to help streamline communications between patient and provider – something that’s much more difficult to facilitate when the patient is in the FQHC facility.

GetApp named Luma Health #1 in the Telemedicine Software category for 2020. 

Initiative 3: Use Digital Tools to Ease Fears Around In-Person Appointments

While the move to telehealth has been transformational for care delivery, there is still a segment of your patient population that will need to be seen in person. And many of those patients are probably reluctant to come in, given the resurgence of the virus in many areas and their own particular chronic conditions that place them in a category of elevated risk. It’s a vicious cycle: patients avoid public places to reduce their risk of catching the virus, but as a result, their health condition deteriorates and places them at increased risk of catching the virus and experiencing complications.

Technology is the solution for this analog problem. Luma Health’s Zero Contact Suite, including Zero Contact Check-In and Zero Contact Waiting Room, allows patients to check-in from their phone and wait where they want, only needing to enter your clinic when they receive a text message directing them to the assigned exam or procedure room for their appointment. Maintaining physical distancing is easy when unnecessary interaction is removed from the equation. 

Getting FQHC patients into care — and ensuring that follow-ups are maintained — is more challenging than ever before, due to the restrictions and changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. But communication and optimizing technology support for care delivery can help your FQHC to bridge the gap between the pre-COVID reality and this new normal. Request a personalized demo today to see how the Luma Health platform can help your FQHC better deliver care for your patient population.

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