Federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) are under immense pressure to improve patient care and engagement, while simultaneously cutting costs in order to keep up with the competition. It can be challenging to consider adding staff hours for patient engagement when you are constantly concerned about your financial stability in the wake of the changing healthcare landscape, employee turnover and staff burnout. The financial burden can be especially significant when you are focused on meeting the needs of underserved populations who are most at risk for chronic illnesses such as diabetes -- a disease that cost U.S. healthcare organizations $327 billion last year alone.
Prevalence in Underserved Communities
According to a 2017 study by the American Diabetes Association, nearly 30 million children and adults are diagnosed with diabetes with an additional 86 million diagnosed with prediabetes. Of those impacted, low-income populations with limited health literacy are most likely to be diagnosed due to a variety of environmental factors, including barriers to attending scheduled appointments. According to the study, education levels also play a role in determining which populations are at the greatest risk for type 1 and 2 diabetes, with adjusted incidence nearly doubled for people who have less than a high-school education.
With the increased prevalence of diabetes among underserved populations, how can FQHCs ensure that these patients are knowledgeable about their health and able to maintain it responsibly? Here are three considerations:
1. Appointment Reminders
Real patient engagement begins before the patient walks through the door. Sending reminders via text messaging is a crucial step in helping prevent no-shows and helping underserved populations stay engaged in managing their health. Text messages have a 98% open rate, which far exceeds the rates of email or patient portals. Not to mention texts can be automated and easily tailored to meet patients’ specific needs, including language translations.
2. Providing Education
Getting patients through the door for a 15 minute face-to-face is no longer enough. Organizations seeking to improve healthcare for underserved populations are obligated to serve patients before, during, and after each visit. Patients diagnosed with diabetes must take an abundance of precautions and adhere to specific guidelines in order to properly maintain their health. It's unlikely that during a single appointment, providers can sufficiently educate patients on how to manage diabetes. By implementing additional educational programs in between visits, FQHCs can ensure that underserved patients are receiving the level of care they need. When a clinic in Southern California sent a regular series of educational and supportive text messages to diabetes patients, they saw a reduction in blood glucose levels that was 10x those who did not receive the messages.
When implementing educational programs, it is critical that the FQHC takes into consideration the unique challenges that face low-income populations—from language barriers to reading and education levels to financial challenges and other obstacles. Recommendations should be easy to access, read and comprehend. While organic foods, for example, may be an optimal food choice for better health, they may not be affordable for a low-income family.
3. Empowering Patients
Proactive engagement puts patients in the driver’s seat for their own health, while simultaneously allowing FQHCs to track or flag patients that need more frequent monitoring. Providers can help underserved populations who suffer from diabetes prevent avoidable readmissions or ER visits by soliciting self-reported clinical measures or symptoms in between well visits.
Today’s FQHCs are struggling with the need to provide patient-centered care with dwindling financial resources. But, the reality is that using smart patient engagement strategies to help treat patients with chronic illnesses can ultimately lead to better health outcomes and more satisfied patients.
To learn how we can assist you with improving diabetes care for your underserved populations, use the form below to connect with the CareMessage team.