The Ultimate Guide to Improving Patient Care Across Patient Populations
The healthcare industry has come under tremendous pressure in recent years. From labor shortages to fighting a global pandemic, providers have an increasingly uphill battle ahead of them—especially when it comes to providing better care across patient populations. Health disparities and inequities among disadvantaged groups continue to be a persistent challenge, and these issues are key focus areas for quality improvement in healthcare.
Here, we’ll take a look at some of those challenges affecting care quality for underserved populations, and how technology (like IRIS’s digital retinal imaging software) can be used to address them.
Challenges of Patient Care in Underserved Communities
There are several factors that hinder efforts to improve patient care. Ranging from lack of affordability to lack of access, a number of obstacles prevent patients from accessing the care they need.
1. Limited Resources
In remote or underserved areas, populations are faced with limited resources in regard to healthcare. Roughly 15 million people live in Medically Underserved Areas, which are designated as having a shortage of primary care providers by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In these areas, it can take a long time to receive care due to travel time and/or lack of transportation. Access to specialists can be even more challenging, as they are fewer and farther between in underserved areas.
These issues are compounded when patients are uninsured or underinsured. For example, a 2021 CDC study found that people aged 18-29 with diabetes, who are less likely to have insurance than older cohorts, were more likely to report having missed medical care during the past 3 months.
People in underserved areas don’t just miss out on care, they also miss out on vital patient education that could help them prevent and manage illnesses more effectively. Improving equity among underserved populations is becoming a key focal point for quality improvement in healthcare initiatives.
2. Shortage of Providers
Poor access to care isn’t just driven by distance and cost challenges. There simply aren’t enough providers to meet demand. It’s estimated that, by 2030, demand for primary care services will outpace the supply of physicians. Higher rates of chronic disease and an aging population are key contributing factors. The shortage is expected to become particularly acute among lower-paying positions, such as medical assistants and nursing assistants.
Covid-19 has exacerbated this shortage, and attrition has become a major problem. One survey conducted post-Covid found that roughly 20% of physicians were likely to leave their current practice within two years, and one-third planned to reduce their work hours within the next 12 months.
3. Increased Life Expectancy
As the Baby Boomers continue to age, the over-65 population is expected to grow by 48% by 2032. Older people require more care, particularly from specialists. Due to advances in medicine, people are living longer—many with chronic diseases—than previous generations, which in turn puts additional strain on the healthcare system.
What Are Quality Improvement Strategies Used in Healthcare?
Despite these obstacles, there are proven solutions that enable providers to succeed at quality improvement strategies in healthcare organizations of all kinds.
Attracting and retaining talent is mission critical for the healthcare industry. Many organizations are implementing workforce development programs to make healthcare jobs more attractive and keep employees engaged once they’re on the job. Pathway programs, which provide clearly articulated career paths for all employees, aim to introduce people to healthcare jobs at an earlier age to generate interest. Programs like Health Careers for All in Seattle increase the likelihood that participants will complete healthcare training programs and find work in the industry.
Scholarship and loan repayment programs also help make the industry more attractive. The cost of education is a major obstacle for many who want to pursue a career in healthcare. Through scholarships, loan forgiveness, and repayment programs, healthcare professionals receive education funding relief in exchange for working in underserved areas. These programs have been proven to retain healthcare workers beyond their initial commitment. For example, 87% of participants in the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) loan repayment and scholarship programs continued to practice in underserved areas two years after service completion.
Healthcare is changing rapidly—new advancements are announced all the time. It’s an exciting time, but it’s also difficult to navigate. Continuing education, training, and resources keep providers up-to-date on new ways to diagnose, treat, and communicate patient needs. Education also enables providers to improve the patient experience. For instance, ongoing education can arm providers with the tools they need to educate patients on examination procedures. This can support quality improvement strategy intiatives by making patients feel more comfortable with the process.
With technology and the right education partners, training doesn’t have to be time-consuming or costly. For example, at IRIS, we offer two different training options based on budget, space, and scheduling:
- Onsite Training: IRIS sends a trainer to the site for one full day to meet with staff and educate them on the camera, the process, and workflows.
- Virtual Training: This live virtual training was incredibly popular with COVID travel restrictions and allows us to deliver an equally valuable training session.
Regardless of the format chosen, we provide tools to help set up providers for success. Through IRIS University, participants watch video modules that educate them on the importance of diabetic retinal exams, the anatomy of the eye, basic camera functions, and use of the IRIS software. To easily integrate IRIS with your current workflows, participants can use their existing Microsoft login to access the training materials.
As long as a provider remains a client, they can access IRIS University. Staff can view the modules as many times and as often as they like to refresh their skills. We also provide a Client Success Manager to coordinate an additional onsite or live virtual training session.
Expanding the Scope of Practice
Many providers are expanding the scope of their practice as part of quality improvement strategy initiatives and revenue growth strategies. Expanding scope often involves working in collaboration with a range of health professionals to meet the healthcare needs of a particular population or area.
IRIS helps providers collaborate by enabling non-eyecare specialists to take images of patient retinas, which are reviewed by IRIS’s reading center’s board-certified retina specialists and ophthalmologists. Any healthcare institution can use the IRIS program to capture photos which are then enhanced, and diagnosed for diabetic retinopathy by a licensed professional within two business days.
Telehealth was growing in popularity before the pandemic, and the 2020 healthcare crisis only made it even more commonplace. It’s a great way to increase access to care for those in rural, remote, and/or underserved areas. As technology continues to evolve, and patients gain better access to internet and video calling, it will only grow more popular.
Telehealth is also a central tactic used for quality improvement strategies in healthcare. Not only does it improve convenience and sometimes lower costs for patients, but it also frees up time so providers can see more patients. It also improves access to preventive care, since patients don’t need to go through the normal hurdles of scheduling time away from work and traveling to the office. That makes them more likely to receive care.
Despite Challenges, There Are Opportunities to Serve Those Who Need it Most
Our healthcare system may be under tremendous stress, but there are many ways to improve the patient experience and expand access to care among the populations that need it most. As providers seek to address quality improvement in healthcare, they have access to new strategies, processes, and technologies.
That’s what we do at IRIS—we connect providers with the tools to improve patient care. From the ocular testing equipment to the specialists who review the images, we make it possible to serve diabetic patients more effectively and potentially help save their sight.
If you’re a provider who wants to reach underserved populations, find out how IRIS can help by reaching out today.
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