4 ways to educate patients about the Affordable Care Act

With much of the reform law upheld, hospital executives and other industry leaders need to help patients get a clue about the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to improve outcomes and costs.

Not sure how to inform patients about health reform? Here are four ways to keep patients informed and involved with their care under new ACA provisions, according to industry experts.

1. Form a strategy team
Before educating patients, hospitals themselves must know how the Supreme Court ruling will impact their facility and residents. With that in mind, Arrowhead Regional Medical Center (ARMC) in California formed a strategy reform team to review the decision and evaluate potential long- and short-term opportunities.

"The decision will have far-reaching opportunities, but we just won't know what they will be until we review all of the language," ARMC Director Patrick Petre said in a statement following the high court's ruling.

The team's analysis will involve County of San Bernardino leaders and the California Association of Public Hospitals to gain a better understanding of what the ruling means.

2. Offer patients an online resource
As consumers increasingly use the Internet to seek out health information, hospitals should look to St. Francis Medical Center in California, which, along with the Catholic Health Association (CHA), offers patients an online resource with easy-to-understand information about the healthcare law and what it means for their care.

CHA joins the American Medical Association and other organizations representing patients, physicians, nurses, hospitals and pharmacists as part of the Health Care and You Coalition to help Americans understand the ACA. "HealthCareandYou.org is a place where patients, healthcare professionals and small business owners can turn for state-by-state information about the law and how it impacts them," AMA President Jeremy A. Lazarus, M.D., told FierceHealthcare.

3. Serve as "neutral informers"
Patients often view hospitals and their staff as "neutral informers" about healthcare, allowing them to let people know what the ruling really means, Shawn Gremminger, vice president of Legislative Affairs at the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems (NAPHHS), told FierceHealthcare.

As impartial informers, hospital executives at safety-net hospitals and health systems are stepping up efforts to educate people about new rights under health reform and what happens if their state opts out of Medicaid expansion, a big change included in the ruling.

And with ACA provisions aimed at escalating costs, they also are informing patients about how uncompensated care is financed, making sure the public knows that when uninsured patients wind up in the hospital emergency room, that care ultimately gets paid through state, local and federal payments to help cover the costs, Gremminger noted. In addition, the public should know about cost-shifting, in which hospitals actually drive up costs to insured patients to cover the costs of the uninsured.

4. Hold educational forums
Not only should hospital executives and staff assume their "neutral informer" duties, but they also should be taking on leadership roles in educating their communities and stakeholders about the ACA. To do so, Mendocino Coast District Hospital in California hosts a community lecture series at the facility that is free to the public, as well as televised locally. 

"I have used this forum in the past to educate our residents on the various proposals for healthcare reform," Mendocino Coast District Hospital CEO and Hospital Impact contributing blogger Raymond Hino told FierceHealthcare. "I plan to conduct another lecture in the near future to educate our citizens on the effects that the ACA will have on them and our hospital," he said.

For more:
- read the ARMC statement
- visit St. Francis' online resource

Related Articles:
For reform to work, patients need to get a clue
Majority of doc execs support, public uninformed on reform ruling