This article was originally published in the October 2021 edition of the Northwest Primary Care Association’s Northwest Pulse newsletter.
Federally qualified health centers, or FQHCs, are critical to keeping communities across the United States healthy, especially those with significant underserved populations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, their role has become even more important, as many patients postpone or struggle to access routine healthcare needs.
At the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center (ANHC) in Anchorage, Alaska, proactively reaching patients who might not have the resources to get to a healthcare provider is a priority. ANHC is committed to providing a variety of healthcare services to all patients, regardless of ability to pay, and even provides a shuttle service to help people get to the clinic.
With limited staff, however, it’s difficult to find time to call each patient with an appointment for the day, and even harder to call each patient who might need a reminder to schedule their mammogram or a check-in for their chronic conditions. Staff have also been hard at work continuing to coordinate COVID-19 vaccinations and testing for the community.
Automated outreach, integrated with ANHC’s EHR and population health management system, allows ANHC to extend the reach of their staff, helping them connect with patients more often.
“Last year we cared for 11,000 patients, and many of them are covered through Medicare or Medicaid,” said Jason Korlaske, ANHC’s Director of Practice Management. “They might have challenges with transportation to appointments – for example, we treat quite a few elderly patients.”
Historically, to make sure patients were getting in for their appointments, ANHC staff would call each patient to confirm their upcoming appointment or to offer them an earlier option for patients who were on a cancelation waitlist – a significant time commitment. Now, ANHC integrates Luma Health’s patient engagement platform with its EHR to help automate this outreach. Patients can be automatically texted when an appointment spot frees up and accept that appointment through their phones, without any phone calls. Korlaske said that on a given day, patients accept about 40% of appointments offered through the Luma waitlist – which means they see a provider sooner and ANHC has fewer unused times on the schedule.
A similar approach has helped ANHC’s staff provide COVID-19 vaccinations.
“We used text message broadcasts to reach all of our eligible patients at once,” said Korlaske. “Information from patient records in the EHR helped us determine who still needed a vaccine, and we were able to send vaccine screening forms and check-in details digitally.”
If patients weren’t able to make it on the day of their vaccination appointments, ANHC staff contacted patients on the waitlist using the same automated text message workflow that they use for routine appointment offers. Korlaske said that elderly patients in particular were thrilled to receive an appointment, and ANHC even set up a no-contact check-in process to manage the flow of patients arriving for vaccinations.
“We vaccinated more than 4,000 people, which was a big deal for us because we didn’t interrupt or slow down our regular business operations,” he said.
The next step for ANHC is to expand their automated outreach to include critical population health reminders. Making sure patients get regular preventive care, such as cancer screenings and wellness visits, is especially important to the organization, as many community members have delayed these critical preventive measures due to the pandemic. While ANHC was able to adapt and provide many services digitally, such as behavioral health visits, providers are now ramping their on-site schedules back up to regular levels and encouraging patients to come in for care.
ANHC is actively working on automation for proactive preventive care outreach so that staff are able to focus on the needs of the patients in front of them. To accomplish this, they have been working to connect several of their critical patient tools behind the scenes. By building on their existing success with Luma Health messaging and connecting it with their population health management solution, Azara DRVS, the ANHC team has seen enormous potential to expand the positive impacts for their patients.
Azara Patient Outreach (APO) programs available through Azara DRVS integrate with the Luma Health patient engagement platform, and both technologies integrate with ANHC’s EHR. As a result, ANHC staff will be able to report on patients who are overdue for preventive care using data from Azara, then send a Luma Health text message broadcast with one click. ANHC plans to start with a mammogram outreach campaign in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Through text messages, ANHC will provide patients with educational material on the importance of routine mammograms to prevent breast cancer. Patients will be able to schedule their mammograms via text, too.
“One of the things I’m very proud of is we take everything very seriously, and every partner we work with recognizes that,” Korlaske said. “We’re so adept at change now, because of the pandemic, and we really push toward finding more efficiencies by doing things by text or the web instead of old-school phone calls. We don’t sit still – we just have to keep going.”