If you have a diverse patient base, that’s a great thing. Not only does that mean you’ve gained the trust of people from all cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds, but it means you have the opportunity to meet a vast expanse of patient needs.

But when it comes to providing equal access to care — which is ensuring everyone receives affordable, quality healthcare regardless of their background — many healthcare practices fall short in making sure that people on the fringes are equally taken care of.

Let’s take a closer look at how to improve access to care.

1. Adopt a Diverse and Inclusive Hiring Policy

A diverse and inclusive workforce not only reflects the broad range of patients you serve but also introduces different perspectives and experiences that can help improve the quality of care you provide. You can encourage greater ethnic, gender, and socio-economic diversity in your workforce by implementing comprehensive diversity and inclusion hiring policies. From hosting bias awareness training for your hiring staff to writing more inclusive job descriptions, there are a variety of ways to remove bias from your hiring process — and focus solely on the candidate skills that can enrich your practice.

You can also consider hiring lower-cost physician extenders such as nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other allied healthcare professionals to help close the gap in healthcare access. These healthcare extenders can provide many of the same services as physicians, including diagnosing and treating illnesses, prescribing medications, and providing preventative care — all at a more affordable cost for patients.

2. Collaborate with Community Organizations

To better understand and address the unique needs of different patient populations, form partnerships with local community organizations that represent and advocate for marginalized groups. These collaborations can help you tailor your products and services to meet the unique needs of specific communities more effectively.

Mobile health units are a great example of a solution you can support to help increase access to care in underserved communities. Mobile health units are staffed with healthcare professionals who can provide preventative, diagnostic, and treatment services to members of their local community. They often travel to rural or urban locations that lack access to traditional healthcare facilities in order to deliver much-needed care for otherwise marginalized or underserved populations.

3. Educate Your Clinical Staff on Healthcare Disparities

Training and education are essential components of increasing access to care. Conduct regular workshops and training sessions to educate your clinical staff about the various social, economic, and environmental factors that contribute to healthcare disparities. Encourage your clinical staff to become advocates for improving access to care and provide them with the tools and resources necessary to effect change.

4. Invest in Telehealth and Remote Care Solutions

One of the significant contributors to healthcare disparities is a lack of access to healthcare facilities, particularly for those in rural or underprivileged areas. Investing in telehealth and remote care solutions can help bridge this gap by using technology to provide healthcare services to patients who might otherwise have trouble accessing care. Additionally, telehealth and remote care can also lower costs for patients,[1] increase patient satisfaction, and reduce readmissions.

With telehealth solutions, healthcare practitioners can remotely diagnose and treat a variety of common conditions, such as colds, flu, and skin rashes. To adopt telehealth, you must consider investing in the right infrastructure, hardware, and software to enable remote patient monitoring, teleconsultations, and other telehealth services. For instance, telehealth solutions such as digital health platforms, remote monitoring devices, and electronic health records (EHRs) can improve the quality, efficiency, and accessibility of healthcare services.

5. Accept a Wider Range of Insurance

The type of insurance your healthcare practice accepts greatly impacts patient access to care. While accepting Medicaid and CHIPS may present some challenges, it also offers the opportunity to provide care to an often underserved population. One of the key considerations when running a practice that accepts Medicaid and CHIPS is ensuring that your billing and coding practices are up to par. Because these programs have strict guidelines for reimbursement, it is crucial to make sure that all services rendered are properly documented and coded, as even small errors can result in denied claims and lost revenue. As a result, many practices opt to hire dedicated billing and coding staff or invest in specialized software that can streamline this process and minimize errors.

6. Increase Flexibility for Patients

One way to increase access to care is simply by breaking down barriers that make it hard for patients to receive essential care. This starts with offering a variety of scheduling methods. Online scheduling can be a convenient option for patients who cannot make appointments during regular business hours. After-hours appointments can also be a great solution for those who work and cannot leave during the day. Open scheduling, which permits patients to walk in without an appointment, can provide those in crisis with immediate care. By offering these different scheduling methods, you can accommodate a wide range of patient needs.

Another way to increase access is by offering flexible payment options. You can work with patients to develop payment plans that better suit their financial situation. You can also set up recurring payments to ensure that patients are not hit with large bills all at once.

7. Use Data to Drive Decisions and Improvements

By monitoring the data you collect on your patients and their health outcomes, you can identify disparities and barriers to accessing care. Use this data to address these barriers, allocate resources, adjust your strategies, and measure their effectiveness. Data-driven decision-making can help ensure that all patients receive the care they need, regardless of their background, location, or economic status.

For example, during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, in an attempt to improve diversity, equity, and inclusion in their response to the pandemic, Brigham Health[2] used data science to inform their incident command response. They utilized data regarding race, ethnicity, language, gender, and insurance status to help ensure equitable access to scarce resources such as ventilators and ICU beds.

Improving Healthcare for Everyone

Achieving greater access to care is more than just the right thing to do — it's also good for your practice. As a healthcare professional, you are in a unique position to drive positive change. By understanding the importance of patient and clinical staff diversity, educating your practice on healthcare disparities, and investing in more equitable solutions that serve a variety of individuals, you can play a critical role in this endeavor.