Expanding Physician Capacity through Connected Teams and Technologies

By Jeff Bullard, MD, Chief Medical Officer & Chief Product Strategy Officer, Catalyst Health Group
Twitter: @CatalystHG

Hundreds of primary care physicians (PCPs) comprise our network of independent providers—the largest of its kind in the Southwest. And I bet 100% of them believe that, as a profession, PCPs lack access to the data, technologies and teams needed to maximize their impact on patient health. As a result, too many PCPs overextend themselves to the point of burnout, trying to compensate for traditional delivery models that leave them vastly under-resourced.

It’s understandable how this happens. As a primary care physician myself, I desire to foster relationships with patients, support them in every step of their health journeys and help them live healthier lives. Many of my physician peers seek to do the same and demonstrate the immense influence that primary care can have on the lives of patients. But without investment and application of new resources and new ways of working, this proven approach of personalized primary care is unsustainable. It’s only a matter of time before the entire system fractures.

Indeed, the Association of American Medical Colleges projects a shortfall of 21,000 to 55,000 primary care physicians in the next 10 years—driven in many ways by the clinical, operational and financial pressures that PCPs face daily.

The good news is that this unique moment of industry disruption has created opportunities to re-examine the primary care model. We’re now exploring the roles that technologies and teams can play in relieving PCP burden in practical ways. In the process, we’ve discovered that resources are available today to improve the care experience, outcomes and costs for all.

To empower PCPs to continue to fulfill the promise of primary care, the industry must continue to innovate and incentivize technologies and team-based approaches that alleviate burden and create greater connection at every point in the care journey.

Three crucial advances in teams and technologies that enable sustainably effective primary care

  1. Pharmacy integration – For years, PCPs have lacked visibility to how closely (if at all) patients follow their medication-related care plans once they’ve left their offices. Technology-enabled, integrated pharmacy solutions are changing that. By connecting patients virtually with pharmacists before the patients have even finished their doctor’s appointment, dedicated pharmacists can preemptively address issues related to out-of-pocket costs, drug interactions, prior authorizations or other patient concerns. Patient outcomes improve significantly, while the typical administrative and operational back-and-forth exchanges between physician offices and pharmacists are resolved in real-time.
  2. Connected care teams – Taking this team-based approach to care a step further than the pharmacy experience, integrated care management solutions enable PCPs to focus even more of their time on crucial care activities. Care managers, social workers, behavioral health specialists and other specialized experts work together as virtual extensions of the PCP’s practice and ensure that patients can follow their physicians’ care plans in between office visits. When these team-based care models are used in tandem with the right technologies and analytics, PCPs gain continual visibility into the entire patient journey, from referral management through the full care navigation process, to ensure better support and outcomes.
  3. Telehealth proliferation – Telehealth offerings have become an expectation among patients when it comes to how they seek healthcare, and that is especially true for primary care. Not only do telehealth visits empower the patient to seek care when they need it, they also provide an opportunity for the provider to leverage a wide variety of care team members as shared or centralized resources. And all this occurs within the context of relationship-driven, personal care delivery that can only stem from patient trust. Telehealth technologies don’t necessarily revolutionize or reimagine what care can be, but they do reframe how and when the tailored care that people have come to expect from their PCPs can be delivered.

What we see in all this is that the answers for addressing PCP supply amid growing demand aren’t single-threaded. Yes, one solution is increasing the number of PCPs in our country, but it isn’t the only solution, nor is it the most probable. We must do more to support the existing PCP population and expand their ability to care for more patients—and care for them well. By continuing to push for (and appropriately reimburse) the use of technology-enabled, team-based care, the healthcare market can create a transformational shift in care delivery, care expectations and care results through the empowerment of PCPs.