Dr. Anthony Tersigni: Innovative care models are new catalysts to transforming healthcare

To keep our communities healthy, the healthcare industry continues to drive toward a value-based system that provides care when, where and how it is needed. When you also consider technological advances and consumers who are more engaged than ever in their healthcare decisions, it has become increasingly clear that the industry must reimagine care delivery beyond the traditional definitions of health and healthcare.

As the healthcare environment continues to rapidly evolve with increasing challenges and opportunities, providers across the country are called to reach new levels of performance while ensuring the presence of a strong and sustainable care delivery model for the future. While we adapt to address the health of entire communities through innovative approaches, consumers are driving dynamic changes to ensure convenience, accessibility and affordability. It's no longer just about delivering quality health outcomes at an affordable cost — consumers are also demanding an exceptional experience to go along with it; one that makes care more integrated, accessible, seamless and convenient.

In recent years, a growing number of healthcare providers have been working to better connect all aspects of care with the hope of improving health outcomes for the communities they serve. Key to the approach have been public and private efforts to address head-on the social influences on health — the conditions in which people are born, live, work, worship and play. Numerous studies correlate poor health outcomes with low-income neighborhoods, where financial and emotional pressures due to low-wage work, poor housing, food insecurity and neighborhood violence take a toll. Education and literacy, transportation, access to healthy food options, cultural norms, social traditions, and family characteristics are social and environmental factors that work together to shape health outcomes.

This shift in focus has catalyzed alignment among non-traditional partners that enables healthcare organizations to take a more holistic approach to patients' health and wellness and implement strategies that recognize and address socioeconomic influences as well. In the value-based care era, healthcare leaders are also asking providers to better coordinate with their peers across the care continuum and collaborate with diverse health and social teams.

We must design models that incentivize providers, individuals and communities to work together to maintain health rather than overemphasize treatment only when an individual is sick. To do this, Ascension has set a bold goal of eliminating preventable disparities in health outcomes by 2022.

One of our many approaches has involved examining some of the poorest ZIP codes in Detroit where we have a strong medical presence. We want to fully understand the factors that contribute to the cycle of poverty and establish community partnerships that can, together, break this cycle. In other communities we serve, we have designed mixed-use environments that combine various healthcare and wellness services into one convenient, central location. The structures of these community-based care models depend on the needs of the people who will seek care there and how they wish to access that care, which, following the advent of the Affordable Care Act and the Community Health Needs Assessment, importantly acknowledges that many and varied factors affect a person's health.

As consumers seek greater integration of their healthcare services, providers are compelled to better understand a person's full picture of health. Ridesharing services help ensure patients can make their doctor's appointments and follow-up care. Neighborhood hospitals, sometimes called micro-hospitals, are bringing services closer to patients' homes. Virtual care is providing patients an increased level of connection to disease management and remote monitoring services. To reimagine care, health organizations across the country are also looking to partner with church groups, schools and food banks to spread the word about services offered, highlighting these important relationships that need to be made and strengthened.

As we move away from traditional care models and look toward innovative options in the future, the goal remains the same: to improve the overall health of the communities we are privileged to serve. Through this model transformation, priority opportunities for future differentiation and developing innovative solutions for new customers and new markets are on the horizon. Addressing the social influences remains paramount to making this vision a reality.

Anthony R. Tersigni, EdD, FACHE, is president and CEO of St. Louis-based Ascension, the nation's largest nonprofit health system.

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