Dec 15, 2020

Digital tools are key to universal healthcare, WEF says

digital healthcare
healthcare inequalities
covid-19
universal health coverage
Leila Hawkins
2 min
Digital tools are key to universal healthcare, WEF says
The pandemic has highlighted the need for universal access to healthcare...

The shift to digital healthcare during the pandemic could enable universal health coverage, a new report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) states. 

The speed at which the virus travelled around the world, exposing inequalities in access to healthcare, and pushing millions more into poverty, makes a strong case to invest in global public health, the organisation says. 

Around half the world's population lacks access to basic health services. Each year, close to 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty because they have to cover their own health costs. Covid-19 has caused this number to increase as people lose jobs and health expenditures rise as a result of Covid-19-related spending such as tests, treatment and vaccines.

The WEF says value-based care is crucial to optimise the efficiency of health systems around the world, delivering care focused on the patient and outcomes that benefit both them and society. 

To do this, they make several recommendations involving digital healthcare solutions: a data-driven approach to healthcare delivery, using digital tools to track patient outcomes and improve access to healthcare, and improving compensation methods to drive down costs. 

Data is particularly important as it provides a clearer picture of the problems that exist accessing healthcare, and enables more targeted delivery of care to patients, such as mobile clinics. 

The wide adoption of telehealth during the pandemic has enabled greater engagement between patients and doctors regardless of their location, and a number of mobile tools can increase levels of preventative care, the WEF says. These are key drivers of universal health coverage. 

The WEF report concludes: "As we rethink our world post-pandemic, we must harness the tools within value-based healthcare to advance the welfare of collective humanity in line with Goal 3 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals: “Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages”". 

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Jun 21, 2021

How health plans can reduce healthcare inequalities

healthcareinequalities
COVID19
healthplan
sdoh
4 min
Jim Clement from Inovalon on the role of health plans in improving access to healthcare

The COVID-19 pandemic has put inequalities accessing the healthcare system in the spotlight. Jim Clement, Vice President of Product & Services at cloud provider Inovalon, tells us that health plans play the most integral role in advancing the health equity movement.

Why did it a global pandemic to highlight the issue of healthcare inequities? 

Health inequity in the US has been well understood by healthcare professionals for many years, but it has become more evident due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It wasn’t until the racial and ethnic differential seen in response to COVID-19 related infections, deaths and vaccinations that many Americans became acutely aware of the health inequity due to sociodemographic factors such as race, geography, education and income.

Fortunately, there’s now a growing health equity movement afoot in America which aims to improve public health and achieve equity in health status for all people by ensuring opportunities are available to attain the highest level of health. While the entire healthcare ecosystem is important to this transformation, it is health plans that arguably play the most integral role.

How can health plans help? 

Achieving health equity means obstacles to health must be removed, including poverty, discrimination, powerlessness, and lack of access to the basics like physicians, hospitals, medicine, technology, and health education. This is not only a social justice initiative, but also a clear call to action for health plan organisations that are bearing the economic brunt of the costs due to health disparities. 

Health plan organisations that recognise the alignment between efforts to improve health equity and broader member engagement initiatives will be in the best position to move the needle. Plans must also understand that the provision of medical services within hospital walls, physician offices and other health services providers is necessary, but not sufficient. 

By recognising that health inequity also includes non-medical factors such as employment, income, housing, transportation, childcare, and more, plans will be better equipped to ensure their members are set up for success. 

What do healthcare providers need to do generally to address inequities? 

Outreach by both health plans and providers is critical to ensuring people have knowledge of available services, the reason those services are critical to their health, and options to access those services based on their unique circumstances. With both stakeholders beating the same drum, progress can be made quickly.

Given the impact of social determinants of health (SDOH), should healthcare providers take a more active role in addressing these, or other agencies? 

While communicating with patients is critically important, what is truly required to address inequalities is helping patients take medical  actions – like regular PCP visits, monitoring A1C and accepting health coaching – that are necessary to maximise their health, along with non-medical actions –like availing themselves of community resources that address homelessness, food insecurity and employment services. 

The most progressive providers and payers have or are putting in place programs to address these non-medical issues.  In addition, non-medical tools such as transportation services can certainly help drive the effectiveness of medical services. 

How important is it to educate patients about their health and how can this be done? 

Education is a social determinant of health and a key lever to be used to drive health equity.  Patients who do not understand their medical conditions or the consequences of non-compliance with their treatment plans are prone to poor outcomes. 

For health plans, understanding member needs is one of the biggest drivers of quality care. A continuous cycle of engagement through feedback and appropriate responses will provide health plans with an opportunity to uncover, discuss, and resolve problems faster. 

Improving member outreach and engagement can be made easier with a programmatic approach involving four stages of intentional outreach: Getting to know your members, educating members, seeking feedback from members and gaining member loyalty. Each stage not only contributes to a better member experience but also to improved outcomes and higher satisfaction scores.

Now that the issue has come to the fore, what do you think things will look like in 5 years or so?

I predict that health plans that get member engagement, education and equity right will achieve better health and greater value, faster. Those who get it wrong or delay will suffer the consequences of competitive disadvantage and pay a larger share of the rising costs associated with health inequity.

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