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Supporting health care practices so they can support patients

By: Carol S. Palackdharry MD, MS, FACP

Senior Medical Director

Two facts are indisputable

The number of Americans eligible for Medicare has increased dramatically in the last 50 years and will continue to rise. Look at the numbers. Medicare enrollment was 19.1 million in 1966. It rose to 48.9 million by 2011. That’s an increase of more than 150%.1 As of October 2021, enrollment was just under 64 million2, and it’s expected to be over 81 million when the youngest baby boomers become eligible in 2030.3

As the number of Americans eligible for Medicare has risen, the American health care system has been steadily losing health care workers. Even before the pandemic, burnout was a very real problem for health care workers. Around 40% of physicians reported symptoms of depression and having thoughts of suicide. Since the onset of the pandemic, that number has skyrocketed. At this point, 60 to 75% of health care workers are exhausted, depressed, suffering from sleep disorders and experiencing PTSD. About 20% of health care workers have left an already depleted field creating even more staffing shortages and reducing quality of life for health care workers that remain.4

We must confront an uncomfortable truth

For years we have said that the challenges created by rising numbers of Medicare beneficiaries and reduced numbers of health care workers are going to collide. Sadly, today we must admit that they aren’t going to – they already have. According to the Health and Resource Services Administration, 14 million Americans live in an area that is medically underserved5, and 80% of rural America falls into one of those areas.6

The relationship between doctors and patients is critically important. People are deeply emotional about issues related to their health, and they trust the doctors that direct their care. This is even more true as health needs become more complex. In those cases, optimal outcomes often require the expertise of multiple specialists – making persistent, interoperable data and care coordination vital. So, the question at hand is how can we make it easier for health care providers, especially when a patient sees multiple providers, to focus their energy and attention on patient care?

Expand the reach of the practice

The answer is to create connections with support services that enhance the practice, not replace it. As health needs intensify, the administrative work needed to adequately support the patient increases. Practices can bring in external support to help coordinate care, address challenges connected to social determinants of health (like transportation, financial need and isolation) and provide education and support for patients, families and caregivers.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation are exploring models designed to promote quality care and improve health outcomes for beneficiaries. Strategic partnerships can help scale up additional support for Medicare beneficiaries and close gaps in services. However, the ultimate responsibility for health care and health quality remains where it belongs – with treating providers.

To learn more, contact ActiveHealth at DCquestions@ActiveHealth.com.