Getting access to timely and quality healthcare can be a challenge for the common man. But for patients in rural areas, underserved communities, and some marginalized racial or ethnic groups, the problems are even greater. A limited number of community providers, difficulty finding transportation to and from doctor’s offices, and even communication challenges due to language barriers can lead to undiagnosed or untreated chronic conditions, while increasing the likelihood of frequent readmissions and the need for expensive emergency care .
However, providers can ensure that all people get the care they need – and deserve – without bias. The key is a grassroots effort that starts with home care providers. As a first line of defense, home care providers and caregivers have more opportunities to reach vulnerable individuals and often have insight into the social determinants of health (SDOH) that factor into patient well-being, fulfilling the promise for value-based care and setting them on the path to optimal outcomes.
Health crisis and health equity
More than 94 million people currently reside in federally designated Primary Care Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). This designation means that there are geographic areas, populations, or facilities that do not have enough primary care providers to meet the needs of their communities. The numbers grow exponentially when you look at access to specialty care, such as cardiology or endocrinology, and mental health services.
These HPSAs highlight the huge health disparities facing people in our country. Lack of primary care and convenient access to health facilities create disadvantages that prevent people from reaching their full health potential simply because of socially determined circumstances. And as a result, we see distinct differences in the length and quality of their lives, and the extent and severity of disability caused by disease.
The role of home care in improving health equity
The goal of the healthcare industry’s shift to value-based care is to ensure that every patient achieves the best outcome. However, it is clear that our nation’s existing health care disparities will make achieving this goal extremely difficult.
To effectively deliver value-based care and proactively minimize health risks, we need to better understand how SDOH affects each individual. Yet fully understanding this is challenging, especially if one does not see a doctor regularly.
With national priorities focused on health equity and value-based care, the large and growing home care segment has a unique opportunity to play a central role in achieving these goals and providing underserved populations with the resources they need, and the support they deserve.
For example, the majority of health professionals are located around more densely populated areas. Home care agencies complete a critical void in rural areas, which are home to some of the most vulnerable patient groups. Home health providers can also check on these patients more frequently without requiring the cost and time associated with a trip to the doctor’s office, and then communicate with additional members of the care team to ensure that patients are receiving the most good care and avoid complications.
Furthermore, more than half of home care workers are people of color, and about a third were born outside the United States. By having experienced, diverse home care providers in populations that may have language or cultural barriers, there is an opportunity to improve information exchange and establish greater trust between patients and providers, helping to establish a pathway to improved health care. results.
Promoting high quality home care
Given the close connection home health workers have with underserved populations, they are an important component in overcoming barriers to health equity and value-based care. But to get there, a much greater emphasis needs to be placed on providing excellent training to ensure that home care providers can provide high quality services. In addition, they should be equipped with tools to help them do their jobs, including communicating any problems or changes a patient may experience to nurses or other providers.
The home care market is growing rapidly, but so is the number of patients who have limited access to care, whether due to geographic boundaries, race, ethnicity, or other socioeconomic factors. Because they are familiar with communities and spend significant time with patients, home workers are an important but often overlooked piece of the healthcare puzzle. Empowering a high-quality home care workforce with the skills and technology they need is just the recipe the nation needs to address the health care disparities that plague our underserved population.
Photo: Dusan Stankovic, Getty Images