5 Ways to Optimize Alternative Care Sites

5 Ways to Optimize Alternative Care Sites. An arrow moving up to the left by bouncing off regularly placed steps.

Amid the expansion of alternative care sites such as retail clinics, the home and virtual settings, health care organizations have a unique opportunity to improve access and build greater trust and loyalty, particularly in underserved communities.

However, this won’t happen simply by offering care in settings outside physician offices. Providers must recognize changing consumer preferences in how they want to access care, build diverse care teams and prioritize care continuity, notes a recent Deloitte report, “Advancing Health Through Alternative Sites of Care.”

What Consumers Want

The report zeroes in on how to create a more inclusive and equitable experience, based in part on two surveys Deloitte conducted in February and March among more than 4,500 consumers and online focus groups with 445 consumers who identify as Black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American.

Among the findings:

  • Reduce Friction

    Health care organizations must provide a patient experience that reduces friction and addresses factors that contribute to inequitable care and poor access.

  • Touch Points

    Alternative care sites can increase accessibility by providing more patient touch points and expanding location options for well visits, mental health and other services.

  • Retail Clinics

    While only about 10% of consumers have used a retail clinic over the past year, many more say they would be “likely to” or “maybe would” use these locations for preventive care (55%) or mental health (47%). Black, Asian and Hispanic respondents are more likely than white respondents to use retail clinics, and urban residents are more likely than those in rural areas to use retail clinics.

  • Virtual Care

    Consumers’ use of virtual health is shifting from just urgent or acute care to include preventive and mental health. Nearly two-thirds — across all races and ethnicities — say they would use virtual visits for preventive care while nearly 75% of Medicaid and health insurance exchange plan users would access care virtually for mental health services.

Addressing the Trust Deficit

To reach more of these consumers through alternative care sites, providers must develop diverse care teams, Jay Bhatt, D.O., managing director of Deloitte Services LP and one of the report’s co-authors, told MedCity News. “Having diverse and empathetic care teams that reflect the communities they serve will help consumers build and sustain trust. If you meet community members where they live, work and play, they will feel more comfortable,” Bhatt said.

Trust deficits remain a major barrier for people seeking care, the report notes. Consumer and community trust in providers and organizations is critical for optimal health because trust influences patients’ willingness to receive preventive screenings and physical and mental health care. Trust between patients and providers also is linked to improved patient experiences, better health outcomes and the patients’ perceptions of the care they receive, Deloitte research shows.

In its 2021 focus groups, Deloitte found that:

  • Two of every three participants who identify as Black, and half of Asian and Hispanic participants prefer to see a provider who is similar in race, background or lived experience.
  • For Asian (59%) and Hispanic (53%) participants, having a provider who is empathetic and culturally competent is a top priority.
  • About half of participants are willing to trade access to convenient, in-person care for a virtual visit with a provider who looks like them and is culturally competent.

5 Takeaways for Health Care Organizations

1 | Create more access points and include opportunities to address drivers of health.

Organizations have an opportunity to address the issues that exacerbate disparities. Retail clinics and community health centers provide better access to care as well as access to food, educational resources and connections to social service agencies.

2 | Develop diverse care teams.

Consumers are most likely to be comfortable receiving care from someone who is “like them.” Consider co-creating teams with the community to reflect what the community wants.

3 | Ensure care continuity.

For patients with chronic conditions or older adults who require more complex care, retail clinics can focus on seamless interactions with other health systems or the primary care setting. Provide an easy mechanism to send the patient’s visit details to the entire care team.

4 | Invest in virtual health technology.

Improving telehealth capabilities and designing a process whereby consumers can access their own physician instead of third-party services can help health care organizations streamline and maximize virtual health benefits.

5 | Train clinicians on virtual health.

Patients still aren’t completely satisfied with their virtual interactions with physicians and other clinicians. Training clinicians in building virtual interpersonal relationships can improve the virtual visit experience.

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