FQHCs and health centers provide invaluable healthcare services, but your work carries an extra level of complexity. You’re working with underserved populations that have specific needs — needs that directly impact your approach to treatment, communications, and even patient outcomes. This is why it’s important to genuinely understand what makes underserved populations so unique in healthcare settings. Getting a handle on these factors means that you can better serve your communities and do so in ways that introduce them to a positive patient experience and a healthy relationship with your organization.
Let’s take a look at four of the most impactful factors.
Social Determinants of Health
Social Determinants of Health, the mix of conditions that people are born into and move through as we age — can have a significant impact on your patients. Traits like education, economic stability, and community and social contexts are fundamental to how underserved patients experience healthcare. These traits also set them apart from other populations. One good example is people in medically underserved areas and populations (MUA/MUPs). This can include homeless people, low-income, Medicaid-eligible people, even migrant farmworkers, and Native Americans. These groups can be subject to specific challenges around access to food, paying for healthcare services, and even accessing one of your facilities in ways that other populations aren’t.
How the Underserved Use Tech
Underserved populations have a relationship with technology that runs along a broad spectrum, and understanding this range can help you bring them the best care possible. Take older adults for example. They’ve lived fewer years with technology, tend to have dexterity issues, and significant percentages of the elderly population have vision issues. But that’s only part of the story. A report by Experian found that a full 94% of the Silent Generation, born between 1925 and 1942, engaged in texting — a number that beats out all other younger generations. Technology also directly intersects with social determinants of health. Limited broadband access has been found to dampen patient portal accessibility and in turn, health equity, according to the Journal of Informatics in Health and Biomedicine. Understanding how patients feel about technology, what types of tech they use the most, and the barriers they face can translate into distinct opportunities to improve outreach and deepen engagement.
Culture impacts much of the way we interact with the world, and this is especially true for underserved populations in healthcare settings. Factors like language, customs, beliefs and superstitions, values and socialization can differ between national and ethnic groups, racial demographics, and even regions. For example, nurses are taught to be aware that an estimated 24% of Black individuals and 21% of Hispanic people live below the poverty line, in comparison to White residents at 9% — economic differences that impact individual relationships with healthcare. Latino individuals who aren’t confident in their ability to communicate in English often avoid visits to the doctor. This same group also faces challenges around immigration status. For example, the recently published “public charge” rule would allow the federal government to deny green cards to immigrants who use Medicaid, housing vouchers, food stamps, and other forms of public assistance. Some of the most common obstacles in serving the underserved can often be addressed by understanding the cultural perspective from which a family, individual, or group is coming.
Often, health status itself can differentiate an underserved group from the general population. People with chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension are especially at risk of poor health outcomes and according to the American Journal of Managed Care (AJMC) report poor health days twice as frequently as the general population. Another group, disabled individuals, are likely familiar with the health system, but that same disability might be a barrier to accessing care. Populations like these often benefit from healthcare delivery models, like care management teams, that have been developed and evaluated to manage the needs of patients with complex health conditions.
While all of these factors present a challenge, they also provide a window of opportunity for FQHCs, CHCs, and health centers around the country to better understand their patients and support them in their health journey. If you’d like to learn more about how your organization can step into that window, fill out the form below.