Ascension SVP Tim Adams: The shift to 'everywhere' care and the future of American healthcare

Today’s consumers enjoy more convenience than ever before. Americans can research available options, compare prices and make purchases from an ever-growing range of products and services—all from the comfort of their homes or while on the go. Being able to do everything online, from buying groceries to applying for a mortgage, has created higher expectations for convenience in virtually all areas of life.

Healthcare is no exception. Our industry is going through a transformation driven by patients seeking high-quality, affordable care with the same ease of access that they have grown accustomed to in other aspects of their lives.

For providers, the key to success in this new environment is to meet or exceed patients’ expectations for convenience without diminishing care quality or widening disparities in healthcare. Take the shift to "everywhere" care as an example. Increasingly, providers offer medical services not just in the traditional physician's office and hospital settings, but in ways that meet consumers where they live and work.

One promising aspect of everywhere care is virtual care, or telehealth. The use of videoconferencing technology can have a positive impact in myriad situations. But for patients and providers to realize the benefits of virtual care, we must maintain a strong focus on quality.

In the Advisory Board’s 2017 Virtual Visits Consumer Choice Survey, 77 percent of respondents said they would see a doctor virtually, but 21 percent cited care quality as their top concern with telehealth, and nearly 20 percent said they were worried the physician would not be able to diagnose or treat them virtually. Unless providers can deliver the same level of quality virtually as they do at their physical locations, the potential of telehealth will be limited.

Similarly, providers have to ensure that increased use of technology solutions does not exacerbate existing or create new disparities in healthcare. According to the Pew Research Center, many of the groups that currently face inequities in care access and quality—including racial minorities, older adults, rural residents, and Americans with lower levels of education and income—are also less likely to have high-speed broadband service at home. We cannot allow these patient groups to be left behind.

Another trend in the move toward greater access and convenience for healthcare consumers is micro-hospitals. Ranging in size from 15,000 to 60,000 square feet, these facilities are significantly smaller than traditional hospitals, but they are fully equipped to provide a wide variety of emergency and other medical services. With their smaller footprint, these hospitals can provide needed access to high-quality emergent care and serve areas that may not have enough demand for traditional medical facilities—whether urban, rural or suburban—bringing care closer to those who need it.

In addition to greater geographic proximity, micro-hospitals can offer shorter wait times, often 15 minutes or less. But again, it is critical to maintain quality and accessibility. Micro-hospitals should be used to bring care, at a high standard, to patients who otherwise may not be able to access medical services. At Ascension, we have launched such hospitals in several markets, including Indianapolis and Austin, Texas, and we’re in the process of adding more.

Micro-hospitals and virtual care are two promising approaches to delivering lower-cost, more accessible care and meeting patients’ growing expectations for convenience. As healthcare providers, we should commit ourselves to expanding and improving these approaches—and to pushing for further innovation.

We are at a moment in time when healthcare in the United States is rapidly evolving. Retail clinics around the country are offering alternatives to traditional care settings. Major employers have announced plans to create medical facilities for their employees at or near their headquarters.

These forces of change present both a challenge and an opportunity to our industry. How we meet that challenge will determine the future of American healthcare. Providers have the knowledge, the tools and the experience to deliver the best, most affordable and most convenient care possible. And when we do, the result is healthier, stronger and more prosperous communities for all.

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