Giving Patients the Keys: Innovation Increases Access to Care
October 30, 2019
In the Outer Banks of North Carolina, there is a section where paved roads give way to sandy beaches. Fences protect a nature reserve, where wild horses, believed to be descendants of animals that swam ashore from wrecked Spanish ships in the 16th century, have roamed freely ever since. Unfortunately, providing this sanctuary has had an unforeseen impact on residents of the Outer Banks. For cancer patients receiving treatment in nearby Chesapeake, Virginia, the fence turned a 10-minute drive into a three-hour detour—each way.
The solution wasn’t to tear down the fence. The answer was quite simple, actually: The town granted special keys to the border gate for cancer patients, enabling them to reach their doctors’ appointments in mere minutes, not hours.
Ingenuity can come in many forms, from huge technological advancements to an opening of minds to see the creative solution right in front of us. To address today’s healthcare challenges, we need both options—and many in-betweens.
From Problem to Innovation
Why has telehealth seen such slow adoption? Why haven’t more patients embraced ridesharing as a transportation option to doctor’s appointments? A core element to successfully implementing any innovation is clear communication of its benefits to the right audiences, ensuring that it matches the needs of its target group and fits into their everyday lives as seamlessly as possible. Communicating developments and programs like these in ways that reach patients directly and effectively is critical to their adoption and, ultimately, to increasing patient access.
Many healthcare companies are pioneering new approaches to increase access to care. Some are radically innovative, while others are just putting a new twist on a well-known concept. The common thread is a willingness to apply the same innovative approach to their communications, getting their messages to the people for whom it makes a real difference.
For patients in rural communities, seeing a specialist in a timely manner can be difficult. Telemedicine has the power to change that. LocumTenens.com* is working to address this, with a slight variation: utilizing locum tenens, short-term contracted physicians, as telehealth providers, tapping into a supply of available physicians seeking better work/life balance to meet the demand of patients in underserved locations. Historically, locum tenens (from the Latin words for “place holder”) were employed primarily during times of severe clinician shortage. Now, the temporary staffing model has the potential to become a foundational part of the everyday healthcare model. Communicating the benefit of this service directly to hospital executives in rural communities can encourage them to rethink how they utilize telehealth—and benefit patients in the areas they serve.
The medical community is far from the only source of healthcare innovation. Lyft, the popular ride-sharing provider, recognized that 3.6 million Americans miss or delay medical appointments every year due to lack of appropriate transportation. This massive care gap can lead to worsening health conditions for patients and increased financial burdens for caregivers and providers. That’s why the company is fighting to ensure that Medicaid participants can use Lyft for non-emergency medical transportation needs. By modernizing the approach and offering its fleet of drivers to improve access to care, the proposed partnership has the potential to impact nearly 65 million people — or one-fifth of the US population.
Getting Creative to Get Consumers on Board
In many cases, across various industries, ingenuity is born out of a problem: What’s a pain point, and how can technology be used to solve it? Particularly in healthcare, the ever-present challenge of complexity offers countless opportunities for innovation that promotes information-sharing and access to care. Yet in a field dominated by privacy concerns, technology-based solutions with the promise of simplicity can face greater barriers to entry than in other industries.
To achieve scale, healthcare brands must meet a higher threshold of trust. They need to get creative about how they convey their brand value through activations that resonate. And to win over patients and consumers with barriers of awareness, education or technological proficiency, it’s essential for communications to reveal not only the solution but also the undiagnosed problem.
Case in point: Maven, a telehealth platform that provides instant virtual connection to women’s and family health professionals from the ease of one’s smartphone. The brand has spread the word about its service largely by publicizing the success Snap Inc. has had in offering the tool as a benefit to female employees. It’s a rare win-win-win communications initiative: Snap gets recognition for the resources and support it makes available to its employees; companies learn of a benefit that forward-looking HR departments can offer to retain women; and consumers learn of a new offering to request from their own employers. Creatively leveraging this partnership allows Maven to communicate its innovative solution and improve access to care for thousands of women.
Communications that Bridge the Gap
In other cases, innovation comes in the form of a breakthrough technological advancement. Healthtech company INSIGHTEC* manufactures a medical device known as Exablate Neuro, which uses soundwaves to perform neurosurgery with no incisions, no anesthesia and minimal hospitalization. INSIGHTEC’s treatment is FDA-approved to treat essential tremor, a movement disorder that causes uncontrollable shaking of the hands, making eating, dressing and enjoying life a constant struggle for an estimated 10 million Americans. For essential tremor patients that do not respond to medication, INSIGHTEC’s incisionless focused ultrasound treatment is a real game-changer; other surgical treatments for this condition require open brain surgery to permanently implant a pacemaker-like device.
Although essential tremor is the most common movement disorder, awareness of this condition lags, even among those suffering from the symptoms. Many patients believe that shaking hands are a natural part of aging and are unaware that a treatment exists that could radically improve their quality of life. INSIGHTEC tackles this challenge head-on, utilizing social media to communicate the signs and symptoms of essential tremor and encouraging potential patients to seek a diagnosis and learn about treatment options. The cutting-edge technology is only the first part of a larger equation. Communication is the bridge that connects this breakthrough with the people who need it most. For essential tremor patients, this could mean the difference between living with an unbearable condition and receiving care that can transform their lives.
Innovation has little use within a vacuum. Any solution, whether a simple creative fix or a technological leap, requires deliberate, strategic communications to reach its target with the desired effect. Breaking down barriers of distance, transportation, complexity, awareness and more can connect today’s incredible healthcare innovations to the people who need it most.
To return to the wild horses of North Carolina, it’s easy to imagine this situation deteriorating in the absence of clear communications and consideration of options. One can envision protests to eliminate the reserve, demands for a bridge or another costly solution, and counter-protests against that expense. In reality, calmer—and more creative—minds prevailed. Communications is integral throughout the innovation process, both to evaluate the challenge and to uncover the solution: the key to the shortest path between patient and doctor.
*LocumTenens.com and INSIGHTEC are clients of G&S Business Communications.
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