In theory, the goal of the healthcare system is to ensure patients spend as much time as possible at their highest possible level of health. However, the reality is that most of the healthcare system focuses on taking care of the sick rather than helping healthy people stay well.
There are tremendous consequences for operating in a sick care system. Patient information is fragmented, spending is unsustainable, and most detrimental, the quality of human lives is compromised.
Fortunately, we have better options than wrestling with the status quo. Here are four ways to transition from “sick care” to “healthy care”:
1.) Connect patients with community resources
Health systems must become better at connecting patients to health information, community and social support services that meet their needs.
It is becoming increasingly clear that addressing social determinants of health is critical to keep communities well. Healthcare organizations have realized that helping patients meet their basic needs, such as housing and access to food, are incremental yet essential steps to keeping them healthy. For example, if we know that a patient lives in a food desert then we can better provision groceries customized to their needs. Similarly, if a patient lives in an unsafe neighborhood, then asking them to take a walk, or exercise outside would be misinformed advice.
To support these community programs, care teams responsible for the patients need to work with a platform that follows patients across the healthcare ecosystem. When set up appropriately, and supported by the right platform, a community care program can leverage pertinent information that proactively prompts care teams when the individual needs assistance. Ideally, health systems will be connected electronically to community services and simplify the process of enrolling patients in these programs.
2.) Offer culturally sensitive care
In addition, patients are more likely to stay well if their providers understand their community and culture. People are more likely to confide in providers who speak their language and understand the cultural context in which they view the care process. They are also more likely to trust the wellness advice shared by such providers.
If providers want to be taken seriously, they need to respect the religious, social, and educational concerns people bring to the table when recommending potentially major changes that impact the lives of patients.
Suggesting that a patient change their diet, smoking habits, or personal life-decisions, may be a routine part of patient counseling, but it must be done with cultural sensitivity at the forefront. Patients are likely to resist making changes to their lifestyle and cultural practices unless they trust the person giving them the recommendations.
Capturing race, ethnicity, and language is key for healthcare organizations and more importantly, their ability to pair ideal resources with patients who speak their language and understand their culture.
3.) Leverage pharmacists’ expertise
Another way health systems can keep patients well is to leverage the network of clinicians in their community, in particular, pharmacists. These essential care givers are critical in promoting community wellness.
Pharmacists are highly trained and skilled care providers, yet many patients don’t fully leverage their expertise. Often times, patients only engage with their pharmacist when they pick up their medications.
However, pharmacists have the potential to play a significant role in population health efforts and proactively keeping patients healthy. If pharmacists are given the proper tools and support, their scope of practice can expand far beyond medication management. These trusted, qualified care givers have the potential to expand their range of clinical services, such as chronic disease management, smoking cessation, family planning, etc.
4.) Educate patients on health issues
The last crucial step healthcare organizations can take in fostering wellness is educating their community about key healthcare issues. For example, health systems should make a point of offering classes on important topics such as diabetes management, nutrition, and cardiovascular health. However, when we educate patients, we need to do so in an engaging manner where their feedback is both understood and prioritized. Education needs to be customized to the patient (based on their illness, condition, health goal, etc.).
Of course, for this to be successful, community members must trust their providers and feel comfortable taking their advice. Building this trust is essential in empowering patients with the right information they need to make informed health decisions.
While realistically we can’t shift our healthcare system from “sick care” to “healthy care” overnight, we can make incremental changes that can propel this shift. Key drivers to support the transformation of healthcare include patient-centric approach to care, access to essential needs, education and empowerment, and providers’ better understanding of their patients’ community and culture.
Unraveling decades of a fragmented, disjointed healthcare system focused on sick care will take time. However, there is no time like the present to leverage the technology, knowledge, and passion the healthcare industry has, to successfully transform how care is delivered.
 Geographic areas where residents have few to no convenient options for securing affordable and healthy foods — especially fresh fruits and vegetables.
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