The US healthcare system faces a range of deeply interconnected and complex challenges. Even those who know the system the most intimately–like the frontline clinicians and administrators delivering care– have difficulty navigating it. The crisis of trust clinicians face, both in themselves and the institutions they represent, doesn’t help matters. These healthcare challenges, occurring at both the policy level and the practice level, seem daunting. The goals of increasing access, equity, and affordability, which will alleviate some of these challenges while helping to improve outcomes, will not be achieved overnight.
Reducing complexity and delivering a better patient experience will require a mix of broad, healthcare industry-level objectives, along with smaller steps practitioners can take in their own practice. Small but meaningful changes at the practice level by the practitioners uniquely positioned to reimagine what the system is capable of delivering will rebuild patient trust. These efforts can support the mission to deliver care more effectively, affordably, and without unnecessary complexity that can alienate patients.
1. Optimize Clinical Workflows
Overcoming the biggest problems in healthcare today starts at a practitioner’s own facility. If you are a provider that manages other clinicians and support staff, you are acutely aware of how important it is to work together to deliver optimal care.
Optimizing workflows in medicine is similar to that in other industries. Evaluate the current system (or develop one), by identifying inefficiencies, and then determining where workflows can be improved.
Many businesses are choosing solutions like outsourcing and automation to streamline workflows and reduce overhead. These can also improve care if your organization applies money saved in a way that delivers results for patients.
2. Empower Frontline Clinicians
Practitioners are positioned to see how various incentives in the health system intersect. You can not only make adjustments in your own practice but collect data and draft proposals meant to persuade administrators without your clinical experience to make changes. Additionally, continuing medical education allows frontline practitioners to gain a range of clinical and professional skills that can help them prepare to meet challenges more holistically.
3. Promote Human Resources
Delivering quality care, at the end of the day, is a human pursuit. While digital resources like artificial intelligence can facilitate better care in a variety of ways, employee development must be at the forefront of any strategy meant to overcome problems in the healthcare system.
In some cases, this means creating a more human-centric healthcare system with practitioner education and professional development. At the policy level, continuing medical education and consolidated regulations overseeing scope of care. The combination of these two strategies can empower clinicians to decentralize a healthcare system that relies heavily on its administrative bureaucracy to function.
4. Modernize with Technology
Even with telehealth, patient health portals, data collection tools, and electronic health records already impacting medicine, technology still has plenty of room to grow in healthcare.
Point of care (PoC) diagnostic testing and the technological infrastructure consisting of smaller, cheaper, and less labor-intensive testing holds great promise in reducing waste and costs. PoC technologies can help facilitate doctor-patient interaction outside of doctor visits, with technologies made for use in the home by patients themselves. Wearable biomedical devices and miniaturized blood analyzers are easy to use and can automatically read and share results with practitioners. By limiting reliance on conventional labs and the office visits required to receive these medical tests, costs will be reduced for both physicians and patients.
5. Align Incentives
Practitioners can work to ensure economic incentives align with patients’ well-being to reduce costs and improve care. Aligning incentives is a particularly important goal in primary care, where patients work with providers over the long term on a range of health issues.
By incentivizing a more integrated healthcare system that relies on a single set of interdisciplinary providers delivering a range of acute, family, and preventative medicine services, patients and doctors will be motivated to seek better health outcomes. Whereas the current system of sporadic and low-efficiency healthcare utilization generates waste and requires patients to engage with too many providers, too intermittently, to develop a productive relationship with them.
6. Reset the Conversation
The debate about the kind of healthcare system we should have in the US is unlikely to see a policy resolution that will satisfy all sides. In a contentious environment, the risk becomes an even more discordant healthcare system that values political outcomes over patient outcomes.
Distorting the conversation nationally is a growing distrust in medical institutions once seen as pillars of our lives and communities. Universities, regulatory authorities, and practitioners are all under attack by those individuals–both sincere and not–who believe politics and bias have entered the arena of patient care. Practitioners putting patient interest first can go a long way in cooling passions and helping reset the conversation.
7. Reduce Practitioner Error
Practitioners are human and they do make mistakes. But when they do, the consequences can be dire. Some medical errors are avoidable with better use of facility resources, improved communication flows, and better staffing policies to avoid overworked and mistake-prone practitioners. Adding artificial intelligence to clinical tasks that tend to have errors can increase accuracy and free-up practitioners to focus more on what they do best.
Error is not always due to a mistake. Even the best practitioners can fall victim to unconscious racial and gender biases that impact the way they deliver care. By proactively addressing the tendency for practitioners to dismiss or overlook patient complaints because of who they are and where they come from, practitioners can avoid missing critical information and making preventable errors.