Access to affordable healthcare is one of the fundamental tenets of a modern healthcare policy. In the 21st century, access to healthcare hinges on health insurance coverage. According to recent studies, more than 3.5 billion worldwide either do not have medical insurance or access to basic healthcare facilities. Additionally, according to the WHO, 100 million people are on the brink of poverty because of high medical costs.
The situation is even worse when we discuss the specifics. According to the Global Monitoring Report, 800 million people spend 10 percent of their income on health expenses. And because of these expenses, they have to survive on less than two dollars per day. That is not all. Some segments of society do not have access to essential health services. We often hear about teenage mothers, minority groups, and mental health patients struggling to access healthcare resources. Due to the lack of specialty care, these vulnerable populations more prone to disease and death. Resultantly, they end up becoming another cautionary tale.
Another issue is that the current healthcare delivery system and policy do not meet the needs of patients. Depending on their location, some residents do not have access to primary care services. It does not help matters that insurance coverage is complex. While most people do not even have insurance, those who do may be underinsured. These people have to pay out of their pocket for treatments. And when they pay for costly treatments, they end up going under debt.
A little hope at the end of the tunnel
In short, the healthcare system is going through a crisis. But, how can we improve our policies to address these disparities? The answer lies in an integrated approach to healthcare delivery and accessibility. Recently, healthcare institutions are shifting towards value-based payment models. Evidence suggests that social workers are already helping health institutions achieve this goal. Indeed, individuals who have earned offline or online DSW degrees spearhead this move towards a patient-centric approach. Skilled social workers actively work to overcome the shortcomings of an effective healthcare system in numerous clinical and non-clinical capacities.
There is still work to do
However, we cannot afford to lose sight of the areas that need work. For instance, people with disabilities encounter several health gaps in the current healthcare system. There are several ways we can address and resolve these issues.
- Overhaul how we think about healthcare
Our old ways of running healthcare businesses/practices are out of touch with today’s reality. Every healthcare system worldwide has the same problems; sky-high costs, understaffing, and unequal quality. Healthcare policymakers and clinicians have tried countless incremental fixes but to no avail. Therefore, it is time to revolutionize the system. The system has to ask what the patient needs instead of what the physician does. But doing so will require a permanent shift from the volume of services to personalized care. Healthcare providers will have to move beyond counting pennies to improving patient outcomes. They will have to redefine “quality healthcare.”
- Integrate Technology:
Historically, healthcare systems have been among the most technologically advanced sectors in the world. However, many healthcare facilities have yet to make a proper shift toward online/digital systems. There is no doubt about it; addressing disparities begins with standardized data. Through this data, doctors can make informed choices. It can also help them understand where healthcare problems originate. Sadly, data from one clinic is not always accessible to others as facilities prefer to keep patient information confidential. So when a patient has to consult another specialist, most of their data is not readily available for further diagnostics. Healthcare providers have to begin from scratch and spend precious time asking patients questions they have already answered.
Therefore, the information has to be standardized. Once the EHR fields are similar, providers and administrators can begin identifying inequities within the community. Standardizing this technology has to be a top-down and bottom-up approach. Accurate patient information will make quality healthcare accessible to patients.
- Address the physician shortage
Physicians and primary care providers are on the front lines managing chronic diseases and providing comprehensive care. And as the boomer average global age increases, the demand for these services will increases. Unfortunately, the shortage of primary care providers has exaggerated disparities within healthcare. The ongoing pandemic has also helped to highlight the abysmal patient-to-physician ratio.
An increase in primary care providers can handle the most pressing concerns of patients. According to research, strengthening primary care can benefit socially disadvantaged and well-to-do populations. Having a regular clinician who is familiar with your history can drastically improve the health of patients. But, to reap these rewards, the nation must have enough practitioners. While recent healthcare reforms have increased primary care services by 10 percent, they did not address physician shortages. Therefore, there is a need to increase the enrollment of practitioners. There is also an immediate need to reduce the barriers to entry for quality healthcare education to ensure that more aspirants join the workforce.
- Shorten the distance
Many elderly, physically disabled, and terminally ill patients cannot attend their regular meetings because of transportation issues. According to one report, 3.6 million people miss their appointments because they cannot reach the doctor on time. And since the mean global age is increasing, it would be wise to address this issue. Health care providers can team up with independent transportation networks and services to schedule their trips. These drivers can not only help them get to the doctor, but they can also take them to the pharmacy for prescriptions.
Another strategy is to bring the hospital to the patient with mobile clinics. While these clinics cannot provide specialty care, they can give immediate clinical service to those living in underserved areas. Not only can this strategy make healthcare more accessible, but it can also save costs and reduce emergency room visits.
And last but not least, healthcare facilities and private practitioners can leverage technology to provide Telehealth services. This way, people living in remote areas will have immediate access to quality medical advice over the internet.
- Optimize institutions for diversity
Often patients with disabilities find it challenging to communicate with a healthcare provider. But patient-clinician communication has a significant effect on health disparities. Quality patient-doctor communication can not only improve the quality of care, but it can also affect patient satisfaction levels.
Only once the patient understands their doctor will they be able to get proper healthcare. According to research, only 254 million Americans are native speakers. Therefore, policymakers should realize that they are not dealing with a homogenous patient group. To improve communication within the healthcare sector, medical personnel should enroll in courses to enhance their communication skills. They must also increase the number of medical interpreters within the healthcare system to help marginalized communities access proper healthcare.
Effective change is possible. But, it is only possible once we put the patient first. Furthermore, any change must be collective. The healthcare system, as a whole, should focus on all aspects of care delivery systems instead of focusing on singularities.
While some strategies focus on simple components, others target the system as a whole. For too long, reforms within healthcare have failed because of confusion about the overarching goal. Reductive goals like containing costs and improving profit margins distract experts from the real issues. Comparatively, ill-defined goals have frustrated policymakers. So, we must begin this journey, no matter the price to pay. There is a need to move towards accessibility, from affordability to improve community well-being.
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