As autumn turns into winter, the world is recognizing that the COVID-19 pandemic is truly a healthcare marathon. The time is now for health plans and healthcare organizations to accelerate their population health capabilities. Here are five actions to consider as you engage in year-end planning:
- Prepare consumers for cold and flu season. According to the CDC, it’s possible to contract the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. To minimize the likelihood of this situation, it will be more important than ever for people to get a flu vaccine this year. Since the flu peaks in different regions at different times, there’s no ideal time to get a flu shot. Experts recommend, however, that most people get vaccinated in early fall.
It’s definitely not too early to begin immunization education and preventive care campaigns for health plan members. Providers may want to organize flu shot clinics at convenient times (such as before or after normal working hours) and in convenient community locations. It’s also a good idea to continue outreach campaigns focused on preventive care initiatives which emphasize the three non-pharmaceutical interventions that everyone can adopt to defend against COVID-19, the flu, and the common cold: these include masks, frequent hand-washing, and social distancing.
- Address deferred care, especially for individuals with chronic conditions. One of the byproducts of the pandemic has been deferral of routine medical appointments. This has particularly dangerous ramifications for people suffering from chronic conditions like diabetes or heart conditions. Health plans and healthcare providers should share information about the safety of in-person medical services, as well as whether telehealth consultations are available for different types of medical check-ins. Outreach to populations with chronic conditions should also emphasize the importance of medication adherence to overall health and well-being.
- Identify and engage high-risk and vulnerable populations. Look for insights in your member data. For example, are there unique demographics characteristics in geographic areas such as high numbers of older individuals? Alternatively, are there certain social determinants of health like homelessness, food deserts, or lack of public transportation which could make it difficult for your members or patients to get the care they need for either COVID-19 or other health conditions?
Targeted care management programs can improve the health of different groups, while reducing the overall cost of care by avoiding ER visits and more. Be sure to leverage predictive analytics and define metrics to evaluate the performance of your care management and member outreach efforts.
- Don’t overlook behavioral health. The mental health impacts of the pandemic are wide-reaching. Many older adults, as well as children and teens, feel lonely and isolated. Parents, caregivers, and healthcare workers are experiencing high levels of stress. Adults in general may be struggling with concerns about job security and finances. Health plans and providers should reassure members and patients that they aren’t alone if they’re feeling down or not themselves.
This is the ideal time to conduct outreach and education about behavioral health services, as well as tips such as these from the World Health Organization – maintain a healthy routine, minimize exposure to stressful news, and monitor screen time.
- Plan for a Second Wave Now. COVID-19 is likely to be part of our lives for several more months if not years. Being prepared and responding rapidly are best practices in this uncertain environment. Health plans and providers may also want to proactively adopt technology systems that support interoperability. Integrated population health management solutions are one way to obtain data and actionable information about members and patients. A set of integrated solutions enables your organization to respond effectively to public health crises like COVID-19, as well as support quality initiatives and the ongoing shift to value-based care.
The goal of these five actions is to ensure that care is delivered to your members and patients, not deferred. To learn more about how to navigate the complexities of our constantly changing healthcare environment, please join Modern Healthcare’s upcoming webinar: “Year-End Initiatives During Uncertain Times – Best Practices to Safeguard Population Health,” where my HMS colleagues will provide population health best practices to ensure care is delivered, not deferred. Register today!