Health care is used to define everything from medical services to prescription drug coverage. Yet so much of health care’s impact is rooted in caring—its human, emotional, and social components. While ‘hospital care’ services are crucial, ‘health care’ probably plays an even bigger role. As the saying goes, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” As the gap between “health” and “care” widens, so will our nation’s well-being. There is an urgent need to recall the benefits of this forgotten side of healthcare. Furthermore, we need to integrate social determinants of health (SDoH), cultural competence and empathy back into health service delivery to restore their balance.
How did health become more important than care?
A more accurate term for “healthcare” is now “clinical crisis avoidance services.” Our healthcare system is built to deal with urgent, urgent needs – we’re better at fixing broken bones than we are at dealing with chronic illnesses. Our system is plagued by short-sighted financial incentives thanks to traditional fee-for-service models that have focused providers on treating disease versus providing long-term care. Unfortunately, providers are not compensated for providing holistic, preventive care because it is not profitable.
In addition to misaligned incentives, providers don’t have enough time to spend on “care.” Suppliers spend an average of 13-24 minutes with each patient and approximately 16 minutes after each EHR visit. Unfortunately, in many cases the EHR wins the battle for provider attention. Provider training did not include understanding of the patient’s cultural background or empathy. Less than 10% of healthcare organizations incorporating SDoH into clinical workflows or train providers to capture social determinants during visits.
Ultimately, consumers feel powerless and unable to make informed health decisions. a lot users cite a struggle to navigate the complexity of our system and how to participate meaningfully in their health care. This inevitably causes a cascade of long-term physical, mental and economic consequences. Yet most patients prefer shared decision-making or patient-led decision-making to manage their path to health.
My experience in motherhood
A few months ago my third baby was born. Despite my background and experience in health care, there were many times when I felt powerless and uninformed while making decisions. With three births, I had to fight for my own care (insisting that they not put me under general anesthesia) and was fortunate to find champions in amazing providers (helping me get a child out of the NICU and back home safely). I’m not alone. My good friend from California, new mother of two and partner at Maveron – Anarghya Vardhana – well said:
“The system is not set up to help the average American stay healthy and feel empowered. My method of fighting for my family’s health included reading NIH documents, consulting European standards of care, and talking to close friends who are doctors from top medical programs. The holistic, thoughtful care that should be there just isn’t there.”
Her baby was born one week after mine. Two cities, two babies, same time, same challenges.
Care coordination, education and access must be prioritized. About 50% of commercially insured adults – especially men – have not seen their primary care physician (PCP) in the past year and approximately 25% of adults do not even have a PCP. Whether this is because people simply do not understand the importance of primary care or feel discouraged after previous interactions, this trend must be reversed if we have any hope of improving the state of affairs in this country.
Combining health and care
Although clinical and technological advances continue to improve health outcomes, we will not be able to reap the benefits of these innovations without an overhaul of our current system. Every health encounter should meet people’s basic social needs. Ensuring that cultural understanding, trust, respect and empathy underpin all supplier/consumer relationships is also critical. Healthcare consumers want guidance on life-changing decisions and expect to be treated with personalized care. The importance of empathy and cultural competence exists across many populations and can be quite successful in driving improvements in overall health outcomes. While clinical and technological advances continue to improve health outcomes, we will not be able to reap the benefits of these innovations without addressing care needs.
The role of digital health in this transformation.
Digital healthcare is at the forefront of this transformation as it successfully enables ‘healthcare’. New digitally-led health and care and coordination services are helping to streamline the relationship between clinical and non-clinical care. Companies like Unite us provides information that connects individuals, social service workers, providers and communities. Transparent has created a new health and care experience that empowers consumers with trusted guidance, unbiased information and personalized health guides to help members find the highest quality care options and providers when and where they want.
Many digital health companies are using technologies such as artificial intelligence and technology-enabled platforms to design and deliver culturally competent care and education. By providing personalized messages, SameSky Health breaks down barriers to care and forms meaningful relationships to keep people healthy. The company builds trusted relationships while guiding members through their annual wellness journeys and fostering dignity, autonomy and friendship as they move through various life experiences. FOLX Hello is an LGBTQIA+ healthcare provider built to serve the specific needs of the community through end-to-end virtual primary care, HRT, PrEP, care navigation, content and community. The company provides a new standard of healthcare that is designed to serve LGBTQIA+ people instead of treating them as problems to be solved.
The pandemic has also sparked a surge in companies focused on meeting patients where they are. Medical home has created a technology-enabled platform to enable the delivery of medium-high acuity care, as the name suggests, from the comfort of the patient’s home. MedArrive provides a highly skilled network of on-site providers to provide patients with the hands-on care they need at home. In addition, investments in companies providing the right foundation allowed for more creativity in care delivery. Companies like Wheel and SteadyMD offer enterprise-level telemedicine solutions to help their clients build and expand a telehealth offering. Comure solves health system and data set fragmentation issues and connects critical data systems, staff and clinicians to stay connected and up-to-date. By offering the underlying infrastructure, technology and/or workforce, these companies enable a more streamlined care delivery process.
Frustrated consumers will continue to abandon their care decisions if we can’t find a way to bring care back. Consumers expect to be equipped with the necessary skills and resources to take control of their care decisions. Cost transparency, home testing and retail healthcare are some of the emerging trends to meet consumer demands. Without swift transformation, this divorce will further exacerbate the problems already facing the US health care system: an aging population, rising prevalence of chronic diseases, skyrocketing health care prices, and a massive shortage of providers, just to name a few.
Our country needs an equally weighted health care system that uses the best of care and health to drive improved outcomes for health care consumers. Digital health companies are playing a significant role in redefining healthcare, and it’s our job to continue to build, invest and partner with them to support the transformation everyone wants and deserves, and to build a system we can all be proud of. .
Photo: eakrin rasadonyindee, Getty Images
Jinal Shah, Harvard MBA/MPP Candidate ’24, and Layla Behrouzian, Harvard MBA Candidate ’23, contributed to this piece.
Editor’s Note: Transcarent, SameSky and MedArrive are portfolio companies of 7wireVentures where the author is a partner.