While health systems offer an abundance of services and resources, the scale and fragmentation of these operations mean they are often difficult to navigate. If patients cannot easily access the information they need or understand the next steps for taking action, they may be deterred from seeking care.
On top of existing fragmentation and confusion for patients, COVID-19 has further deepened the divide in patients accessing care due to a multitude of factors including fear of healthcare settings, loss of coverage, and uncertainty related to reopening initiatives.
Patient care navigation solutions have emerged as a strategy to empower patients in their own health journeys while removing barriers to timely care, increasing access, and coordinating delivery to ensure high-quality care. Historically, patient care navigation was conducted primarily by nurses, although some programs employ laypeople to reduce the burden on clinicians. Positioned as an accessible advocate with insider knowledge of the system, patient care navigators guide people through the steps of discovering, navigating, and receiving care.
While an effective resource for some, the model of patient care navigation is still based on a system that perpetuates disparities and inequity in healthcare. As the pandemic response has unfolded over several months, the delivery of accessible and equitable healthcare continues to face significant challenges. While some have touted COVID-19 as the "great equalizer," it instead brings to light the many disparate care experiences of minorities and vulnerable communities.
The pandemic has inadvertently unearthed trends within at-risk and sick populations, which further highlights systemic racial and socioeconomic discrimination. Social determinants of health are estimated to drive 80 percent of health outcomes, and it is widely known that discrimination exists within several systems, including (but not limited to) housing, education, criminal justice, and healthcare. This impacts a disproportionate number of minorities represented in essential work settings throughout the pandemic. Racial minorities also often reside in crowded conditions, which makes social distancing a challenge.
With higher hurdles to overcome in these systems, minorities are at a disadvantage when it comes to managing their health, for both emergent and non-emergent essential care in this pandemic. One study of a large integrated health system in California observed that in comparison with non-Hispanic white patients, the odds were 2.7 times higher than an African American would be hospitalized due to COVID-19. Additionally, people with Medicaid or are uninsured were twice as likely to be admitted to the hospital. These findings highlight the role race plays in finding and receiving timely, high-quality care.
Today's landscape presents the opportunity to address these inequities and develop effective solutions to provide equitable healthcare. The American Medical Association (AMA) detailed a list of recommendations that healthcare systems and providers can execute to continue addressing these inequities. Of note, AMA suggests to implement standardized protocols, connect patients to community resources, provide medical interpretation services, and reduce cultural barriers.
As the pandemic pushes us further into a digital world, virtual care has expanded and been deemed essential in managing the backlog of patient care in both primary and specialty care. With more people interacting with a health system's online services, the role of patient care navigation support requires expansion into this digital realm as well.
Orbita has transformed the role of a patient care navigator into a digital front door solution (called OrbitaENGAGE) that can automate and standardize the process of supporting patients in their quest for care. Leveraging this virtual assistant powered by conversational AI can accommodate both the scale and individualized approach needed for each patient searching through the healthcare system. The power of voice and chat guides patients directly to relevant educational information, supports screening and symptom checking, and helps patients locate care options and take action, such as scheduling an appointment.
This solution is enhanced with OrbitaANSWERS, which provides a sophisticated question answering system that understands natural language queries to provide a clinically vetted 24/7 resource for consumers and patients while improving care team efficiency and reducing burden.
With the OrbitaENGAGE digital front door solution, patients from all background are supported in their search for quality care. With 24/7 access, patients can take control of their health when it's convenient for them. Multilingual capabilities ensure that language is no longer a barrier in seeking out care. An omnichannel approach, including SMS, phone, web, and smart speaker, simplifies access to this tool.
Virtual assistants must be user-friendly to be truly effective additions to healthcare organizations, which is why the OrbitaENGAGE solution is optimized to remove friction and improve access to quality care in each patient's care journey.