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AHA Publishes Guide to Drive IHS Patient Healthcare Access

The guide reviews how IHS facilities, non-IHS facilities, and the federal government can help expand patient healthcare access.

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Source: Thinkstock

By Sara Heath

- The American Hospital Association (AHA) has released a guide to help promote patient healthcare access and care coordination for those served by the Indian Health Services (IHS) and other health systems.

The one-page guide reviews how both IHS facilities and non-IHS facilities can partner to improve patient healthcare access, as well as how the federal government can help support healthcare services.

IHS and non-IHS facilities should first work to identify which services patients can receive and from where. Next, both provider types can forge partnerships to allow for the seamless transfer of patients.

“In addition, the assessment should identify efficiencies that may come from sharing administrative and medical leadership, consolidating capacity and coordinating applications to increase financial support for personnel, equipment or facilities,” AHA advised.

Second, both IHS and non-IHS providers should explore new relationships to fill service gaps.

“This will include ensuring that financial resources are dedicated to the appropriate health care providers, and that systems are in place to exchange information among the participants responsible for different aspects of care,” AHA wrote.

Third, all facility types should review AHA’s December 2016 healthcare access guide to find alternative strategies for promoting healthcare access. These strategies can include telehealth and virtual visits, reallocating healthcare workforce, and addressing public health issues.

The federal government also has a role to play in supporting better patient healthcare access at the IHS and related facilities. According to AHA, the government should offer more funding to these facilities.

“In addition, Congress should conduct a study to evaluate funding of IHS — so that limited funds may be used to improve care coordination, and incentivize those providing necessary services,” AHA said.

The government can also offer more technical assistance, particularly to help improve revenue cycle management. Many rural and underserved facilities lack the systems to process bill pay and collect payments for patients and other payers, AHA explained. Improved support will help IHS facilities run more smoothly.

Lastly, AHA says the government can work to reduce regulatory burden, an issue many hospitals have faced in recent years. Doing so will allow IHS workers to focus on providing more ample treatment access to patients and improving care coordination with non-IHS facilities.

As noted above, AHA issued this guide to build upon a general healthcare access guide issued at the end of last year. AHA will continue to support patient healthcare access in vulnerable settings by issuing one-page guides for various specific populations through the remainder of 2017.

Supporting patient healthcare access is critical as more organizations embrace patient-centered care, AHA said.

However, underserved regions and populations – including rural areas or native and indigenous peoples – often go without patient-centered care, despite having a larger population of individuals in declining health. Underserved areas tend to have lower overall health due to higher proportions of aging individuals, limited access to primary care, economic challenges, low insurance levels, and lack of access to basic life needs.

Because of these challenges, healthcare access in vulnerable communities is waning and needs industry cooperation to improve.

“The ultimate goal is to provide vulnerable communities and the hospitals that serve them with the tools necessary to determine the essential services they should strive to maintain locally, and the delivery system options that will allow them to do so,” AHA said.

However, this goal will be slow-going if it lacks support from relevant stakeholders.

“This is only the beginning,” AHA noted. “To fully ensure access to essential health care services, we will all need to do our part — vulnerable communities, the hospitals that serve them, and the association that serves us all.”

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