MedCity Influencers

Homecare & Health Equity: The Rx for Reaching Underserved Populations

Empowering a high-quality homecare workforce with the skills and technologies they need is just the prescription the nation needs to address the health inequities that have been plaguing our underserved populations.

Getting access to timely and quality healthcare can be a challenge for the average person. But for patients in rural areas, underserved communities, and certain marginalized racial or ethnic groups, the problems are even greater. A limited number of providers in the community, difficulty finding transportation to and from doctors’ offices, and even communication challenges due to language barriers can result in chronic conditions going undiagnosed or untreated, while increasing the likelihood of frequent hospital readmissions and the need for costly emergency care.

However, providers can ensure that all people get the care they need – and deserve – without bias. The key is a grassroots effort that starts with homecare providers. As a first line of defense, homecare providers and their caregivers have more opportunities to reach vulnerable individuals, and they often have insights into the social determinants of health (SDOH) that factor into patient well-being, delivering on the promise of value-based care and starting them on a path toward optimal outcomes.

A crisis in healthcare and health equity

More than 94 million people currently live in federally designated Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs). This designation means that there are geographic areas, populations, or facilities that do not have sufficient primary care providers to meet the needs of their communities. The numbers go up exponentially when you look at access to specialty care, like cardiology or endocrinology, and mental health services.

These HPSAs underscore the massive health inequities faced by individuals across our country. Lack of primary care and convenient access to healthcare facilities are creating disadvantages that prevent people from reaching their full health potential simply because of socially determined circumstances. And as a result, we are seeing distinct differences in the length and quality of their lives, as well as the rate and severity of disabilities caused by diseases.

The role of homecare in improving health equity

The goal of the healthcare industry’s move to value-based care is to ensure that every patient achieves the best outcome. However, it’s clear that our nation’s existing health inequities will make it extremely difficult to attain this goal.

To effectively deliver value-based care and proactively minimize health risks, we must better understand how SDOH are impacting each individual. Yet, getting a full understanding of this is challenging, particularly if an individual is not regularly seeing a doctor.

With national priorities focusing on health equity and value-based care, the large and growing homecare segment has a unique opportunity to play a central role in meeting these goals and getting underserved populations the resources they need and the support they deserve.

For example, the majority of healthcare professionals are located around more densely populated areas. Homecare agencies fill a critical void in rural areas, which are home to some of the most vulnerable patient populations. Home health providers are also able to check in more frequently with these patients, without requiring the costs and time associated with traveling to a doctor’s office, and then communicate with additional members of the care team to ensure patients are receiving the best care and avoiding complications.

Additionally, more than half of homecare workers are people of color, and about one-third were born outside of the United States. By having experienced, diverse homecare workers in populations that may have language or cultural barriers, there is an opportunity to improve exchange of information and establish greater trust between patients and providers, helping establish a path toward improved health outcomes.

Promoting high-quality homecare

Given the close relationship home health workers have with underserved populations, they are an important component in overcoming roadblocks to achieving health equity and value-based care. But to get there, much more emphasis must be put on providing excellent training to ensure homecare providers can deliver high-quality services. Plus, they must be equipped with tools that help them do their jobs, including communicating any issues or changes the patient may be experiencing to nurses or other providers.

The homecare market is growing rapidly, but so are the number of patients who have limited access to care, whether it be because of geographic boundaries, race, ethnicity, or other socioeconomic factors. Because they are familiar with the communities and spend significant time with patients, homecare workers are an important, but often overlooked, piece of the healthcare puzzle. Empowering a high-quality homecare workforce with the skills and technologies they need is just the prescription the nation needs to address the health inequities that have been plaguing our underserved populations.

Photo: Dusan Stankovic, Getty Images

Stephen Vaccaro is president of HHAeXchange, where he leads the market strategy and national expansion of HHAeXchange’s state, payer, provider and fiscal intermediary portfolios. With over 30 years of leadership experience in the healthcare industry, Stephen has spent time on both the payer and provider sides of the market. He has a proven track record of success in executive leadership, sales, service delivery, strategic planning, project management, profit and loss management, product development and acquisition integration.

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