How Employers And Healthcare Providers Can Fill Primary Care Gaps
You never really understand how important a primary care physician is until you don’t have access to one. The Covid-19 pandemic showcases the vital role primary care clinicians play in keeping America healthy, especially for patients with chronic conditions.
One study (via NPR) found that “visits to primary care providers made by adults under the age of 65 had dropped by nearly 25% from 2008 to 2016.” Instead, as NPR notes, people may choose to seek episodic care at urgent care clinics or emergency rooms. As the country faces this global pandemic, many of these episodic care centers were forced to temporarily close down or cut hours due to fewer patient visits, which likely left primary care physicians to take care of urgent or chronic needs.
However, rather than seeing a wave of new primary care patients, some primary practices (paywall) are struggling more than ever. People are likely avoiding visiting the doctor out of fear, and the unemployment rate was at its highest since the Great Depression in May 2020, leaving many without the means to afford a doctor’s visit. With less income coming in from patient visits, there’s less money left on the table to pay for expenses. Primary practices, some of which were struggling before the pandemic, were reportedly facing the decision to lay off or furlough hardworking clinicians in April 2020.
This ordeal has the potential to cause extreme problems for our country. With fewer doctors working to keep citizens safe, it could be much more difficult to contain a second wave of Covid-19. As of now, there are predictions another wave could arrive this fall. A smaller workforce of physicians could also have long-term effects in America. Sick patients could go untreated, and children may not receive important vaccines.
To combat the financial burdens of healthcare facilities that have had to close due to the pandemic, a $175 billion relief fund has been established to support healthcare providers. However, the funding is reportedly being divided up not by need, but by facilities’ previous profits. This ruling may prevent smaller primary care practices, especially those serving more challenged neighborhoods, from receiving crucial funds they need to stay open. At this time, I haven’t seen any dedicated funding set aside for primary care practices.
So, how can we solve this healthcare crisis? As a business owner, CEO or healthcare provider, you have the power to help keep not only people but also your community healthy, which is crucial during unprecedented times like these in our history.
Here are three keys to providing quality care to your employees or patients.
1 – Easy Access And Convenience
If it’s difficult to make an appointment or your provider is on the other side of town, you will probably be much less likely to stay on top of your routine wellness checks or visit when you’re feeling under the weather. By making sure your health and wellness center is in a convenient location, your patients will have easy access. Sometimes, emergencies pop up and immediacy is needed. Services such as telemedicine can help you provide a convenient treatment when you pair them properly with traditional care.
2 – Real Interaction
Never underestimate the importance of a personal relationship. Healthcare is a very personal aspect of someone’s life. By regularly seeing your patients, you’re able to connect with them and form bonds of trust. These relationships should be the foundation of your care. The more you learn about your patients and their history, the quicker you can recognize issues and determine solutions. Although at my company we offer robust telehealth services, we know never to just substitute personal connection with convenience. Telehealth is part of the healthcare solution, but not the total answer.
3 – Cost-Effective Solutions
Healthcare can be extremely costly, especially when you choose to only seek episodic care. However, employers and providers can work to offer quality primary care that’s affordable for their employees and their families. As I mentioned in a previous article, they can even partner with businesses to lower costs further.
In addition to partnering directly with healthcare providers, employers can also create or seek out offices that provide a flat-rate primary care plan that provides necessary primary services. Companies should also regularly review their plan options to ensure they’re providing the most cost-effective options for their employees. Physicians’ offices can also help by offering flat-rate primary care plans to local businesses (something my company offers).
Primary care access can be especially important to disease management efforts, specifically to help minimize negative consequences of stress that arise during a crisis. Vulnerable patients become more vulnerable in the absence of accessible primary care. If they don’t manage their conditions, a subsequent crisis of poor health outcomes and increased healthcare costs could be more likely.
As our country works to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic, we should also fight the healthcare crisis America is facing. As citizens, businesses and healthcare providers of this country, we should do our part to keep ourselves and those around us safe. If you’re a business owner, CEO or care provider, you can begin by ensuring patients have access to quality primary care that meets the three keys above.