It’s About Time – Patient Advocacy: A Personal Story & Some Recommendations

“What we offer is the opportunity to save you time and eliminate the frustrations of navigating the healthcare system.”

Curus Healthcare Solutions
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As I mentioned in my first post of 2022, this year I want to explore how the use of technology in health care can save time for patients, their families, and front-line health care workers. But, in this post, instead of talking about technology, I’m going to focus on people – specifically people helping people.

First, a disclaimer. For the first time since I began writing this blog, I will focus on a specific company, Curus Healthcare Solutions. I have no financial or other business interests in the company. I will discuss my personal experience and that of other family members with them. I’ll also make some recommendations at the end that I believe can help others facing a similar situation.

Introduction – In my advisory capacity with The Center for Innovation Commercialization, I get the chance to meet with and listen to companies who are developing innovative products and services for health care. That was the case with Curus Healthcare Solutions. I was introduced to Mark Schlussel, the CEO, and Jared Mort, the COO, and had an extensive conversation about their work in helping patients and their families navigate the complexities of our so-called health “system” when trying to manage care for themselves or loved one. After 40-plus years in the health care industry, I’ve heard dozens of companies profess to be “patient-centric” or “putting the patient at the center of what we do.” So, you can imagine that I was skeptical at first about what I was about to hear. After the usual formalities and introductions were over, within two minutes, I knew I was experiencing something very different. Listening to what the company had already accomplished and their plans for growth, I was struck by the passion for service I heard from both executives. Digging a bit deeper and researching the company’s claims, I found that people using their services were uniform in their praise.

YouTube Video Credit: Curus Healthcare Solutions

I left that conversation very impressed with the organization, their people, their business model, their growth plans, and the results they were delivering for their members. Little did I know at that time how soon members of my own family would require those services.

Beyond Theory, Becoming Reality – Two months after that initial introduction, I received a call from a family member trying to manage an urgent situation for their spouse who had multiple chronic conditions. They needed to find a skilled nursing facility and get a transfer done within forty-eight hours and were in a panic. I remembered the conversation I had with Curus and reached out to Jared to see if they could do anything to help. Instant response: “put us in touch with your relatives, and we’ll get to work.” Several phone calls followed, and to my amazement, Curus was able to find a suitable SNF close to my relative’s home and facilitate the transfer – all in under forty-eight hours. My relatives signed a chronic care agreement with Curus. They have been managing all the care for this individual through several hospital admissions, rehab work, and a return to the SNF for some ongoing care.

Shortly after that, the spouse received a diagnosis of cancer and faced the double dilemma of “what do I do now that both of us are ill and facing a period requiring intensive care at multiple sites over an extended amount of time.” Another call, a lengthy discussion, and a second chronic care agreement was signed. Since that time, Curus has managed every aspect of their care, from scheduling appointments to dealing with insurance coverage, arranging for assistance with home care, and consolidating all the medical records from multiple specialists into a comprehensive personal health record. Once everything was in place, Curus reviewed the recommended care plan with my family members and answered their questions.

“If I didn’t have Sara and Jared helping me though this, I’d be lost.”

Family member

Am I a fan? Absolutely. Would I recommend them to others? I would, and I have. A congregation member at the church we attend is trying to manage multiple co-morbidities with both in-network and out-of-network physicians. As you might expect, they’re going crazy trying to figure out what’s covered, what isn’t, and how much the out-of-pocket costs are. I’m in the process of trying to connect them with Curus to see whether they can help.

Since it’s too late to offer some suggestions for New Year’s Resolutions, I’ll make a few targeted recommendations based on my personal experiences as described above:

If you are an employer – Consider engaging with a company like Curus to help your employees manage their health care needs, deal with multiple chronic conditions, eliminate unnecessary care, and lower overall annual costs of care for your organization without impacting the quality of care your employees receive. As businesses deal with “the Great Resignation” and Post-COVID neurological, vascular, renal, and gastrointestinal syndromes, this type of care navigation benefit will be well-received by potential and existing employees.

“We at Curus believe that care navigation as well as care orchestration are going to be to critical components within the total healthcare spend.”

Mark Schlussel, CEO, Curus Healthcare Solutions

If you are a health care benefits advisor/manager – Adding the services that Curus provides to your portfolio of services creates differentiation in the market and positions you to grow your client base.

If you are a patient – As you can tell from my family’s experience, having someone you can trust to take over the critical functions of dealing with the complexities of our health system takes away the stress of managing this yourself and provides you with confidence that your needs are being looked after.

If you are a family member trying to manage care for a loved one – Families in the “sandwich generation” who are trying to manage care for elderly parents and children, usually from a distance, can benefit from having a care navigator who is focused on their specific needs instead of cookie-cutter approaches and helps to manage both sides of this very complex situation.

I hope that this information is helpful. As a long-time skeptic of how marketing messages are delivered and of companies that only “talk the talk,” it is encouraging to find a company that genuinely lives its mission and actually “walks the walk.” Thanks, Curus team, for giving my family peace of mind. You have no idea how much that means.

The “Hassle” Factor In Health Care Is A Bigger Problem Than We Admit

“The hassle factor of U.S. health care is something many experts once dismissed as annoying but mostly inconsequential. This study suggests it matters a lot.”

Jonathan Cohn, Policy and Politics reporter, Huffington Post
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High administrative complexity is a central feature of the U.S. health care system. Largely overlooked, patients frequently do administrative work that can create burdens resulting in delayed or foregone care.

A new study in Health Services Research (subscription required) finds administrative complexity in the U.S. health care system has consequences for access to care that are on par with financial barriers like copays and deductibles. In other words, we pay for health care in two ways: in money and in the hassle of dealing with a complex, confusing, and error-riddled system. Both are barriers to access. Here are some of the key findings from the study:

  • Nearly three-quarters (73%) of people surveyed reported doing at least one healthcare-related administrative task in the past 12 months.
  • Nearly one-quarter (24.4%) of survey respondents reported delaying or foregoing needed care due to administrative tasks.
  • The administrative burden has implications for equity. It falls disproportionately on people with high medical needs, and existing racial and socioeconomic inequities are associated with a greater administrative burden.

“For people who are chronically ill, it can be like a full time job just keeping up with every hoop you have to jump through, insurance issue that wasn’t billed correctly, and sometimes having to contact people in government to report when things are being done incorrectly.”

Patient with multiple chronic conditions on Twitter

My take – Navigating the U.S. health care system can be frustrating for anyone. Still, for adults with chronic medical conditions, the frustration can become overwhelming as they juggle multiple providers, medications, and treatments. My contention has long been that health care providers who eliminate friction from the process of delivering care will stand apart in their served markets. Much has been written on the topic. Here are my seven common recommendations for removing friction from the care process:

  • Explore viable alternatives to paper forms and faxes. Develop an online “short form” registration process, which contains all of the information required to preregister a patient.
  • Eliminate data silos so that the data from your online “short form” flows across the enterprise, thus eliminating redundant data entry requirements.
  • Implement open-access scheduling across the enterprise. Open-access scheduling, which has been around for years, centers on the use of entirely open schedule templates, few restrictions on appointment types, and the elimination of most future scheduling of appointments.
  • Expand care settings and times to meet the needs of your patients. Many organizations have expanded primary care hours in the evenings and on weekends to meet patient preferences and compete with “convenient care” clinics. Similarly, health systems have begun to align with urgent care centers and even integrate them into their primary care networks.
  • Optimize the use of patient contact centers to streamline care coordination and communication. Organizations are turning to comprehensive contact centers (either insourced or outsourced) to manage the increasingly complex business of efficiently getting the patient connected to the right provider. Patient contact centers can house a broad range of services, including clinic operations, post-acute coordination, clinical services, and e-Care facilitation. Ultimately, when utilized effectively, these contact centers can provide both clinical and non-clinical support to patients, telephonically as well as virtually.
  • Review and optimize your patient portals. Portals allow patients to take a proactive role in managing their healthcare, resulting in potentially more effective prevention strategies and reductions in unnecessary visits. They also give patients access to the information that they have enjoyed for years in other industries, such as banking and insurance.
  • Expand the use of patient navigators across the enterprise. Patient navigator programs are aimed at guiding patients through the convoluted healthcare system and providing an optimal experience. In their most advanced form, navigators are similar to case managers who help coordinate every step along the care continuum, including administrative and clinical components. They may find the appropriate providers and schedule appointments, coordinate the transfer of health information among providers, educate patients about the next steps in a treatment plan, provide after-hours support when physicians or clinic staff are unavailable and empower patients to take a more active role in their care.

Efficiently and effectively addressing the health of the population and remaining competitive in the marketplace requires healthcare organizations to proactively pursue and embrace innovative strategies for eliminating friction from the process, thereby expanding access to health services.