Health Tech

FQHCs must collaborate with each other to remain independent of hospital affiliation, report says

Most federally qualified health centers are committed to remaining independent of hospital affiliation. In order to maintain their independence, it is critical that FQHCs face work together more closely on data pooling and and sharing best practices for improving community health, according to a recent report.

More than one in eight federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) are “fiercely committed” to remaining independent of hospital affiliation, according to a recent report conducted by Porter Research on behalf of NextGen Healthcare. FQHCs differ from other primary care centers and hospitals because they receive federal funds to increase access to care for marginalized communities. They serve nearly 29 million patients annually.

However, a slew of obstacles are challenging FQHCs’ financial stability — including workforce shortages, the expansion of Medicaid, evolving payment models and increasing regulatory requirements. Given these challenges, it is vital that FQHCs face work together more closely, the report argued. 

For the report, Porter Research garnered data from more than 50 executives at mid- to large-size FQHCs across the country to understand more about their organizations’ unique needs. 

Part of FQHCs’ funding and reimbursement is tied to clinical quality and financial metrics, which are measured on an annual basis by the Health Resources and Services Administration’ Uniform Data System. This system provides insights into the overall quality of care delivered at FQHCs versus the total cost to deliver that care. This process places a critical importance on the health centers’ ability to accurately report on the care they are providing, said Srinivas Velamoor, NextGen’s chief growth and strategy officer.

FQHCs’ data needs are further complicated by their unique positioning as last-mile delivery entities for integrated healthcare in marginalized communities. Velamoor said this means they need broader visibility into individual medical and behavioral health data, as well as data on patients’ social determinants of health, including housing status, financial circumstances, social isolation and access to food and transportation.

To ensure that FQHCs’s data needs are met, Velamoor recommends the following actions: simplifying and expanding interoperability and public data exchange programs, increasing access to patient data directories, and accelerating partnerships with non-FQHC community organizations. He also recommended that FQHCs collaborate with one another. 

“FQHCs deliver some of the most complex healthcare services under one organization in all of ambulatory care,” Velamoor said. “While some larger organizations have resources to address the needs of their populations, they don’t necessarily have the perspective that working collaboratively affords. For those that lack resources, pooling capabilities can help accelerate their ability to scale and evolve capabilities and address individual shortages.”

Further, the patient populations that FQHCs serve share a similar socioeconomic profile, one that is less advantaged than the patient populations served by private health systems. Collaboration between FQHCs allows them to learn from each other to meet the evolving needs of their communities, according to Velamoor.

“Collaboration also provides a safety net entity for vulnerable populations in key ZIP codes that can more effectively ensure appropriate coverage across the health continuum,” he said. “This requires collaboration with not just other FQHCs but non-FQHC community organizations that can provide visibility into patient and community needs.”

The report found that 72 percent of participants are willing to work with like-minded organizations, including other FQHCs, to pool data and glean more insights.

NextGen piloted an example of this type of collaboration last year when it launched the NextGen Community Health Collaborative. The initiative seeks to provide FQHCs with data benchmarking, comparative analytics and reporting services, as well as a forum for members to share best practices for improving community health.

Photo: metamorworks, Getty Images