Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), also known as Community Health Centers (CHCs), are pivotal in providing healthcare services to underserved populations throughout the United States. These organizations provide affordable and accessible healthcare services to millions of Americans such as immigrant, homeless, poverty level and other populations. However, the COVID-19 pandemic forced these organizations to rethink their approach to healthcare delivery in terms of patient access, engagement and overall efficiency due to the current and projected future staffing shortages. With the impact of COVID in mind, progressive organizations such as FQHCs are looking to build a more sustainable future empowered by digital transformation.
Importance of Digital Engagement in Healthcare for CHCs
FQHCs provide essential healthcare services to underserved populations who would otherwise struggle to find quality care. However, these centers face a variety of challenges, such as increased utilization of their services while still having limited resources, lack of funding, as well as growing reimbursement and compliance requirements.
Digital engagement is the practice of providing more information and interaction electronically in efficient and consistent ways. From an FQHC perspective this includes multiple stakeholders but the primary focus is on patients and staff. The outcomes of digital engagement include improved care quality, reduced healthcare costs, stronger staff retention and increased satisfaction for both staff and patients.
Digital engagement can also help FQHCs overcome many challenges. For example, digital engagement can help FQHCs reach a broader audience, provide remote healthcare services, engage patients in their own healthcare and connect with their prospective or current staff members.
Moreover, digital engagement can help FQHCs improve their operational efficiency, reduce healthcare costs, improve patient engagement and satisfaction as well as decrease staff turnover.
Benefits of Digital Engagement for Patients and Providers
Digital engagement can benefit both patients and providers in community health centers. For patients, giving them the ability to handle certain tasks makes them more active participants in their own care and when patients are transient provides a consistent communication and medical records access. When patients can request refills, refer to their medical history and sign up for telehealth visits, it directly correlates to their own satisfaction and takes away barriers that exist in terms of transportation.
For providers, digital engagement frees up time for staff, who were previously bogged down with manual patient tasks, to focus on more important matters. With telemedicine and remote patient monitoring, providers can detect potential health issues early and provide timely, evidence based interventions. They can also use patient portals and mobile applications to communicate with patients, provide health education and track patient outcomes using objective data which overall improves the patient experience and care quality.
Digital Engagement Strategies for Patients in Community Health Centers
Digital engagement strategies for patients in CHCs can include telemedicine and remote patient monitoring, patient portals, mobile applications and research-based patient education as well as a variety of other technologies. The following will describe some of these aspects to provide awareness to digital engagement strategies.
Telemedicine and Remote Patient Monitoring
Telemedicine and remote patient monitoring allow CHCs to provide remote healthcare services to patients while collecting objective data real time. Using telemedicine, patients and providers can undergo a virtual visit where the provider can diagnose medical conditions and provide advice while the patient remains in the comfort of their own home. They don’t need to worry about getting to a physical location due to travel issues or needing childcare, and are more likely to keep their appointments which are key challenges for FQHCs and can increase no shows. Remote patient monitoring gives patients the ability to track certain conditions at home, including high blood pressure or hypertension, diabetes and weight management. Devices to monitor these conditions can include, but are not limited to weight scales, pulse oximeters, blood glucose meters and blood pressure monitors. As the diagnostic tools continue to expand opportunities to compile, track and trend this information can become predictive assisting in patient diagnoses and treatment planning.
Patient portals help patients communicate with providers, access their medical records, and schedule both virtual and in-person appointments. Patient portals can also provide health education, track health outcomes, and monitor patients’ progress toward established health goals. Having greater access to data and education means a more preventative approach to medicine which not only is positive for individual patients but also on a macro level decreases the cost and increases the quality associated with patient care.
Mobile applications let patients easily communicate with the FQHC and access important information right from their phone. Not only do mobile applications streamline patient-provider communication, but they can also be useful in promoting events and pushing important information or reminders directly to patients. For example, an app could send notifications associated with maintaining a healthy lifestyle, or a reminder to schedule an age-related medical test, like a colonoscopy. Power these apps with evidence-based medicine and they are able to streamline processes that were currently taking a plethora of time clinical and administrative staff and still achieve better outcomes in terms of patient adherence and awareness.
The American Academy of Family Physicians defines patient education as “the process of influencing patient behavior and producing the changes in knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to maintain or improve health.” Through a patient portal, an app or even social media, CHCs can deploy information to support patient education, such as signs of a stroke or heart attack, vaccine information, or statistics about common health conditions. This is an effective method of communication as increasingly in all socioeconomic areas, access to mobile phones, tablets and internet connected devices are becoming the go to way to obtain and provide information.
Digital Engagement Strategies for Staff in Community Health Centers
There are many studies that confirm the importance of staff engagement when it comes to patient outcomes and satisfaction at CHCs. When patients can self-manage aspects of their healthcare, this reduces the workload for staff, allowing them to focus on caregiving versus administrative work. In addition, the younger generations expect to be communicated with more often than has historically been done and given the lack of staff available it is imperative to maintain strong staff retention Intranets and learning management systems are two specific ways that CHCs can continually engage staff using digital tools.
Intranets, private networks within organizations, can help staff stay up-to-date with company information regarding benefits, schedules and more. An intranet can also include a staff directory with contact information in one central location, publish key metrics and act as a one stop shop for information related to the organization. Employee surveys can be deployed via an intranet, giving leaders a real-time view into employee concerns and suggestions. All in all intranets can serve as a way to build and maintain organizational values and culture in a centralized and automated way to help staff feel connected.
Learning Management Systems
A learning management system is a platform used to provide continuous, ongoing training to healthcare employees. At a CHC, such a system can help staff access corporate best practices, regulatory requirements, as well as training and professional development opportunities. Learning management systems can also help staff stay current with accreditations which is critical for them as well as organizational compliance. In a PwC study, employees indicate that they’re willing to spend a median of 15 hours a month on training to improve their digital skills. While that is not likely achievable in a CHC setting it shows the needs and willingness to participate as the world becomes increasingly automated. The same study indicates that only 50% of employees feel satisfied with the resources available at their organization to learn new technology. A learning management system is a perfect opportunity to improve staff satisfaction and serve as a replicable and consistent way to deliver information.
Contact Hartman Executive Advisors today to discuss prioritizing digital engagement
Digital engagement is crucial for FQHCs to provide quality and accessible healthcare services to underserved populations. It can improve patient outcomes, reduce healthcare costs, and increase both patient and staff satisfaction.
FQHCs should prioritize digital engagement efforts and focus on appropriate strategies for patients and staff. To learn more and figure out where to start, contact Hartman today for a no-cost consultation.