10 Ways to Future Proof Your Health Center
H8F awards through the American Rescue Plan Act are coming quickly for health centers, and leaders at community health centers across the country are trying to make quick and thoughtful decisions on how to utilize the timely and generous funds. But what is the most strategic way to use the award money? Sure, there are plenty of immediate financial needs in health centers, but organizations also want to spend at least some of the money on getting them ready for not just the next year, but the next 10-15 years! This is an unprecedented opportunity to reshape community health in this country. The following are ten ways you can strategically use your award to future-proof your health center:
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Community Health Centers (CHCs) are unique organizations that not only provide for their patient populations but also reinvest in the community by employing community members. According to the National Association of Community Health Centers, every dollar invested in CHCs generates an average of $5.73, and CHCs have created over 405,000 jobs (NACHC, 2019). The people who work in CHCs are critical to the mission, and the job of CHC leaders is to prepare them for the future. Cy Wakeman says that “change is hard only for the unready” (Wakeman, 2017, 124). Consider getting staff ready for the future by investing in language classes, typing classes, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs, climate health training, and more. See #10 for how Coleman Associates can help you invest in staff.
The Digital Front Door-
COVID-19 has sped up the adoption of technology-based consumer experiences such as food and grocery delivery, online car buying, and telehealth visits. A common misconception is that Community Health Center patients don’t use these technologies; but according to the Pew Research Center, 96% of Americans have a cell phone (Pew Research Center, 2019). This includes the vast majority of Community Health Center patients. Customers expect digital access to Community Health Centers, giving them the ability to interact before ever walking through the front door. Examples of technologies to invest in to serve these patients include two-way texting (not just appointment reminder texts), online scheduling software, mobile-friendly websites in multiple languages, and mobile apps. There will still be patients that prefer a phone call, so make sure they have a great experience too with a high functioning, data-driven phone system. Keep in mind that user-friendliness for both staff and patients, and a solid implementation plan will ensure that these technologies don’t collect dust.
When most organizations started telehealth in March of 2020, it was a mad dash to see which software could go online the fastest. Now, we as consumers have come to expect telehealth as an option. Making telehealth easy on patients, staff, and providers is critical for patient retention. This is an opportunity to choose the right platform for your organization that integrates scheduling, paperwork, payment, and clinical care. *Just remember, your H8F award must be spent in the next two years. Whatever choice you make, ensure you can sustain the subscription costs for years to come.
If I had a dollar for every time a staff member or provider at a clinic told me that we had to wait for their computers to load, I might be able to fund the $6.1 billion H8F award myself. Talk to your IT folks or an outside expert and figure out what you need to do to prepare your health center’s infrastructure for the future of 5G internet speeds and higher demand on servers, then do it. Your wallet will thank you later.
Laptops/Tablets for Staff-
In the future of healthcare, the name of the game is flexibility. As we saw with COVID-19, the organizations that could most easily move staff and change workflows had a leg up in adapting. Laptops and tablets are a flexible option for staff and providers that allows them to work from multiple locations, lets them go to their patients, and prevents the need to always be signing in and out of computers. Use this opportunity to get high-quality hardware to save time and frustration for patients and staff. Don’t forget time-saving accessories like a Bluetooth mouse and printer.
Although there are limits on how much of the H8F funding can be spent on building improvements, consider using these funds to create patient-centered care environments, such as gender-neutral bathrooms or portable front desks. Again, flexibility is key. For example, some organizations have successfully utilized open space concept areas with moveable walls and furniture on wheels. This means the clinic can move to suit any changes you need to make in the future in less than 24 hours! Also, consider completing a climate readiness assessment to increase the organization’s resiliency in the coming decades.
One of the most time-consuming tasks for staff in clinics is moving between multiple electronic systems or paper to care for patients and document care. Use this as an opportunity to work with vendors to streamline the documentation process throughout patient care. For example, make sure that any “required questions” are in the EMR in the normal documentation flow of the staff, and take out any unnecessary questions. This will increase compliance with requirements, improve documentation, and decrease staff burnout.
Popular innovations in consumer health include patient wearables, home genetic and lab testing, and AI clinical decision-making support. As these technologies become less expensive and better, more patients will expect their health care teams to be able to capitalize on all the information available to them. Ensure that you can easily integrate these systems with your EMR and invest in support for your staff to use patient-generated data to inform evidence-based practices.
Data Exchange Systems-
In the future (and largely present) Value-Based Payment world, the ability to integrate systems with community partners such as hospitals, long-term care facilities, urgent care clinics, and social service agencies, saves time, money, and can even save patients’ lives. The easier it is to share information, the easier it is to take great care of patients. Plus, data exchange systems make it easier to pull records and save an incredible amount of staff time.
Work with Coleman Associates-
In addition to all the investments above, frankly, your most valuable resources are your staff and their teamwork. Organizations who went through DPI™ (even many years ago) were better able to handle COVID-19 and recovered faster. We are the nation’s trusted leader in healthcare training. Our team members have all worked in community health, and we have a proven track record helping organizations sustain long-lasting results to get back to full capacity, take great care of your staff and patients, and get ready for what’s next. Options for building your human infrastructure and patient experience include process redesign, workflow improvements, access improvement, COVID operational activities, quality outcomes improvement, Tactical Nurse Training, Indispensable MA Training, Leadership Training aka HIMP, Referral Improvement Deep Dive, phone room improvements, paperwork reduction programs, Behavioral Health Integration, All-Staff workshops, Team-Based Care Trainings, and practical… and fun…workshops to help and support your staff and managers.
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NACHC. (2019). Community Health Centers as Economic Engines. National Association of Community Health Centers. http://www.nachc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/NACHC_Eco-Impact-Infographic_FINAL.pdf
Pew Research Center. (2019). Mobile Fact Sheet. Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/fact-sheet/mobile/
Wakeman, C. (2017). No Ego. St. Martin’s Publishing Group.