Healthcare Technology

5 Insights From Our Boston FQHC Panel on Driving Value Through Patient Engagement

During the on-going community event series we've been hosting nationwide, from L.A., to Houston and NYC, we’ve been honored to participate in amazing and inspiring conversations between FQHC leaders. Thanks to the efforts of our co-organizer, Melissa Luna, Executive Director of Greenlight Fund in Boston, and our host, The Mass League, our event in Boston was no different. 

Boston serves as the home of the country’s first community health center (founded in 1965), making it the perfect location to discuss the challenges that safety net organizations face in driving and transitioning value through patient engagement. We had a captivating discussion on technology evaluation, implementation, and how success should be measured specifically from an FQHC perspective. 

Our Boston panel included leaders straight from the front lines of engagement at their FQHCs. 



The Mass League

Mission: To promote population health equity for all through leadership and programs supporting community health centers and members in achieving their goals of accessible, quality, comprehensive, and community-responsive health care.

Moderator: Susan Dargon-Hart, VP of Clinical Health Affairs

Lynn Community Health Center

Mission: Comprehensive health care of the highest quality to everyone in our community, regardless of ability to pay.

Locations: 5

Patients Served: 41,000 Annually

EMR: OCHIN Epic, Azara 

Panelist: Gjergj Lazri, Director of Patient Access Support Services

Panelist: Carmen Santana, Patient Access Supervisor

Charles River Community Health

Mission: To improve the health and well-being of the communities of Allston, Brighton, Waltham, and surrounding areas by providing quality, comprehensive, coordinated care that is patient-centered, family-friendly, and community-focused.

Locations: 2

Patients Served: 15,000 Annually

EMR: NextGen

Panelist: Francisca Guevara, Associate Director of Community Support Services

Our panelists offered diverse perspectives on driving value through patient engagement technology from the clinical side, from a patient access outlook, and also from an angle of community support. Here’s a look at some of the most exciting insights shared by our panelists. 

1. Proper Choice and Use of Technology Is Important in Connecting with Patients

Like many FQHCs, Charles River Community Health had struggled with no-show challenges. But once they began paying attention to their patients’ communications habits, they saw an opportunity. 

After observing their patients in the waiting area, Francisca Guevara noticed they were all highly engaged with their phones. By implementing texting as a technology solution, Charles River Community Health reached patients who often don’t have internet access or a computer at home. Now, patients not only receive reminders, but even the check-in process is more comfortable for them since they’re able to simply show the text reminder they’ve received. 

2. The ACO Relationship has Unique Engagement Challenges that Technology Answers

When functioning as part of an ACO, health centers have to be proactive. Lynn Community Health Center has stepped forward by using technology to identify the patients that they need to reach out to first, such as complex care management and population health management cases. They’ve been able to monitor upcoming visits, identify the patients who are scheduled to come in, understand their needs, and better determine how they can step forward in meeting those needs. 

Lynn has been able to pull insight from call-in and patient request patterns, such as how nurse time was being used by patients and where there was a way to direct patients to more efficient approaches. 

Technology can also serve as an enabler of lean methodology that minimizes waste and seeks continuous improvement in FQHC processes while being leveraged as a tool to address issues as early as possible. While this might require more time, effort, and investment at the problem identification stage, it can also help correctly identify root cause issues, enabling an incremental approach to process improvement. This “teaspoon approach” that focuses on small projects and learning from mistakes opens the door to workflow improvement across the entire health center.

3. Connection to Patient Lives Starts with Information

The smooth flow of information is critical to understanding who patients are and how to support them as they make positive changes in their lives. 

Gjergj Lazri highlighted CareMessage’s bi-directional integration with their EMR, EPIC OCHIN, as key to enabling reporting that empowered Lynn Community Health’s ability to create customized messages. These messages centered on measurable self-management goals around diabetes and hypertension like having A1C checked and following up on high blood pressure results. 

Ultimately, reporting is allowing the health center to refine their patient outreach and better connect with their patients.

4. There’s Real Value in a Personalized Experience

A personalized patient experience can benefit both patients and staff. To realize this type of benefit, FQHC efforts should center patients, providers, and staff, with technology serving as a backup.

Charles River Community Health implemented focus groups to better understand their relationship with technology and learned invaluable information about their senior population. They discovered that many of their elderly patients were uncomfortable receiving text messages or didn’t know how to reply. Because of this insight, they were able to adjust their approach to technology to more closely match the needs of their patient population. 

This type of insight is key to achieving optimal ROI on tech investments since the application of technology is so complex. For example, while health centers might primarily be using technology to engage on a non-clinical level, the results can encourage people who are lonely to visit the health center instead of the ED, meaning that they’re receiving care and taking unnecessary burden off strained emergency departments.  

Additionally, on the staff level, being able to engage with patients at scale, such as communicating with 1000 patients in just 15 minutes via text message can be highly energizing and fulfilling for the people who keep health centers up and running. 

5. Sensitivity to the Human Experience is Critical When Applying Tech

While technology can provide amazing engagement value for FQHCs, it should be used in a way that acknowledges the needs of your patients, staff, and providers. 

Charles River had a departing provider who insisted that their patients be notified by their personal letter instead of a text message. While saving time is beneficial, it’s also important to be sensitive to the needs of all stakeholders and to be conscious of how a message is received by patients. 

Internally, sensitivity matters too. Every FQHC has its own culture that directly impacts the staff and providers who serve their patients. Technology directly impacts workflows, so it’s best to consider them early in the implementation process. FQHC leaders can accomplish this by focusing on positive presentation to staff who might initially be reluctant to try new technology or implement new ways of doing things. 

Panel Highlights Video:

Full Panel Video:

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