09 Sep, 2019
The FQHC Challenge: Managing America's Neediest Patients
Helping people in need: that was the reason Heather chose a career opportunity as the office manager with the Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in her city. On days like today, she wonders how much of a difference she's really making. The patient leaning weakly against the front desk is clearly ill, and he hasn't been coming in for his regular check-ups. His family is distraught. Everyone is talking at once, but the language they are speaking isn't something the staff has ever heard before. Carol, the receptionist, is on the phone trying to find a translator. Carol's pleas for assistance overlap another conversation Debra is having with the hospital about a female patient with diabetes who was just admitted to the ER. Not surprising – a single mother with two jobs, Deirdre hadn't kept any of her appointments for regular check-ups since she was diagnosed. Earlier this morning, three patients didn't show up, a perennial problem that Heather has despaired of ever solving. And the drive to get people to come in for flu shots was a dismal failure – "Snail mail" was expensive and didn't really work, with only a 5 percent response rate. Following up by phone would have been a great idea, but the staff just didn't have the time.
The Language Challenge
Scenarios experienced by Heather are repeated daily, not only in the waiting rooms of the 1,300-plus FQHC's around the U.S., but in health care patient access points everywhere. However, patient communication and management is especially challenging in facilities with multicultural, multilingual and disadvantaged populations. Even talking to patients is hard – residents of Chicago and New York City speak as many as 193 languages. Yet FQHCs are required to offer translation services to patients with LEP (limited English proficiency) in order to receive Federal funds. When patients don't speak English as their native language, it's more than an inconvenience. Health care is threatened.
- Medical adherence declines.
- More appointments are missed.
- Medical errors and omissions are more likely.
The Automated Answer
That's why the ability of an intelligent, automated chatbot developed by Asparia that can communicate with patients in more than 150 languages is such a boon for FQHC's. Because these services are programmed into the EHR, there is no need for front desk staff to learn any additional programs – it's simply available to be used when needed. And the patient management and communication capabilities close the gap between missed appointments and adherence. Using only a cell phone, two-way personalized communication in the patient's own language reminds them of appointments, check-ups, and preventive measures like vaccines and tests. Going beyond reminders, systems like Asparia engage patients to respond and change appointments when needed, all without the required intervention of busy patient access personnel. It can even issue automatic notifications when an appointment slot opens up.
Imagine Heather's day if her clinic had Asparia.
- The gentleman speaking the unknown dialect can receive two-way text reminders in his own language to keep his health on track.
- The busy mom with diabetes and patients with other chronic illnesses get reminders that enable them to quickly communicate with the clinic at any time that's convenient to them. Plus, they can change appointments and respond to questions in personalized two-way communications via texting.
- The response rate for flu vaccines and other preventive measures skyrockets above 50 percent with two-way customized reminders.
- Staff doesn't have to spend time researching who needs a vaccine, a screening, or an appointment. Asparia is embedded in the electronic health record and can access the clinical data there, automatically sending these reminders with no human involvement required.
- Patient flow is even and consistent; gaps in the schedule due to no shows are a tiny fraction of what they used to be.
Now, Heather and her staff have more time to focus on being there for their patients. Read about one FQHC's experience with Asparia (link to case study).