AHA: 6 ways hospitals can improve care access

Hospitals often struggle to thrive in vulnerable communities, but industry leaders can take steps to ensure patients in those underserved regions still have access to the care they need.

The American Hospital Association’s board of trustees convened the Task Force on Ensuring Access in Vulnerable Communities to devise strategies that hospitals can use to make sure they continue to offer care in those regions.

The task force, made up of 29 hospital and health system leaders and state hospital association CEOs, released its report (PDF) Tuesday. Among their suggestions:

  • Take on the social determinants of health. Screen patients to identify their social needs and align with community organizations to help tackle these issues. Make sure patients understand which groups may be able to offer help and navigate them to the correct people.
  • Reduce or reassess inpatient capacity. The healthcare industry has increasingly emphasized outpatient care, and inpatient offerings should reflect the needs of the surrounding community.
  • Offer urgent care services. Urgent care provides an access point for patients with non-life-threatening medical needs and is a way for patients in underserved areas to see doctors without crowding into the emergency department.
  • Invest in telehealth. Virtual monitoring is a less expensive, around-the-clock option for patients, especially those who may live far from their nearest medical center.
  • Align rural hospitals and community clinics. When these institutions work in tandem, patients have more care options. Alignment between hospitals and other community organizations can also improve access to oral and behavioral healthcare.
  • Consider Indian Health Service hospitals. Non-IHS hospitals should work alongside those in the system to offer more care options to those patients.

“As hospitals explore how to meet the needs of patients they serve, they will need to create strong ties to community stakeholders and this report offers alternatives for collaborative work to promote healthier communities,” Jim Skogsbergh, CEO of Advocate Health Care and AHA board chair, said in a post announcing the report’s release.