During our Quarterly Update call with clients, I received a question about what COVID-19 is revealing regarding IT solutions that engage community resources. I took the question to be about what functionality in those solutions is most pertinent to addressing COVID-19, and answered as such.
However, after the call ended, I realized that there’s also a lot to be said about why we’ll be clamoring for solutions that engage community resources after the COVID-19 surge. This may also have been the intent of what the original question was seeking an answer to.
Why Are Community Engagement Solutions Useful?
Before looking into why COVID-19 will amplify interest in community resource engagement solutions, we must first briefly review why these solutions are beneficial in the first place. There are two main benefits community resources offer to providers:
- Health benefits for patients
- Reduction of utilization costs
- Reduction of provider workloads
All three benefits are closely related, but help providers in different enough ways to warrant discussion. The first of these benefits, the health impact of SDoH-centric solutions, has been reported on extensively, so I will defer to the existing body of literature on that topic for this post. Similarly, I recently reviewed the potential of SDoH-centric solutions to limit utilization costs in a recent Research Monitor (exclusive to subscriber clients), and those findings remain true during the current crisis. Given the resource crunch many providers find themselves under right now, these are particularly meaningful.
However, the last benefit, reducing provider workloads, is the least researched and reported. Yet, it remains equally pertinent to our current situation (especially in hot spots).
Providers that have solutions that engage community resources can delegate work to their community partners. Many issues that patients face can be addressed through referral to a community partner. See the following example.
A patient “visits” their PCP using a virtual care solution after experiencing respiratory issues. After questioning and observation, the doctor informs the patient that they are suffering health issues as a result of their worsening smoking habit.
THE PROVIDER’S PRACTICE HAS NO COMMUNITY RESOURCE ENGAGEMENT SOLUTION
- The provider suggests that the patient find a behavioral health specialist to help them to fight their addiction. Alternately, the provider searches for a behavioral health specialist themselves, suggesting that the patient contact them for assistance.
- The provider loses touch with the patient – they have no means of knowing if they found such a company, or if they followed up and started undergoing treatment.
- Provider likely sees the patient many more times before issues are addressed. Alternately, the respiratory issues worsen.
THE PROVIDER’S PRACTICE HAS A COMMUNITY RESOURCE ENGAGEMENT SOLUTION
- The provider refers the patient to a vetted behavioral health specialist through their community resource engagement solution.
- Patient attends therapy, and their engagement with the therapist is tracked and communicated back to the provider.
- The therapist helps the patient to address their addiction, preventing them from developing worse health issues (and requiring more expensive intensive care).
It’s clear that the latter workflow takes less of providers’ time and effort, as well as decreasing risk of readmission.
How COVID19 Accentuates the Usual Benefits
As Jody and I have been stating in previous blogs, the pandemic is disproportionately affecting people who were already at risk for needing the services of community partners. Those of low socioeconomic status struggle with the impact of layoffs and reduced work hours more than those with a preexisting financial safety net. Community partners have a greater ability to treat health conditions caused by poverty than providers (in many cases), so people are now demanding the services of community partners in greater numbers. Yet, the health issues that result from patients’ poor living conditions keep landing them in providers’ offices or worse, the emergency room.
So, in the hardest hit areas, we’re burning the candle at both ends. COVID19 is causing a surge in cases that require the attention of providers, and the number of patients whose health issues could be addressed by community partners is increasing. Providers that can efficiently offload these cases to community partners will find themselves with more time to manage the problems that only they can address.
Why Adopt After this Surge of COVID19?
Simply put, the benefits of effective community resource engagement are felt now more than ever, and people will remember those benefits once the current COVID19 surge begins to subside. Leveraging the capabilities of organizations operating adjacent to healthcare (food banks, transportation assistance organizations, housing assistance programs, etc.) gives providers much-needed support in treating their patient populations.
Furthermore, while the benefits may be more apparent during a pandemic, they don’t disappear after we return to normalcy. Community resource engagement solutions will still alleviate workloads, lower utilization costs, and convey greater health benefits to patients. So, as value-based contracts become more common, as we weather this pandemic, and with the capitation of Medicaid, demand for community resource engagement solutions will certainly rise.