By Melissa Allen
The rise of healthcare consumerism, amid growing physician shortages, has led to more patients being concerned about value and quality. This is true for providers in all healthcare environments — from large community hospitals to solo practices — as value-based care takes greater hold throughout the industry.
But among OB/GYN patients, the cries for better, more personalized care are growing stronger.
According to a 2017 report by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, half of U.S. counties lack a single OB/GYN provider, which means even for routine preventative care, women are forced to drive a long distance.
This problem is exacerbated by the increased financial burden experienced by patients as they pay more out-of-pocket costs for their own healthcare. Like with anything, as the financial burden grows, so do the expectations of what patients receive for their money. For healthcare, patients expect more from their doctor — more attention, more advice and more availability.
But giving women more of what they need isn’t as simple as flicking a switch. In order for OB/GYNs to properly care for their patients, it’s imperative that our understanding of how and why care is lacking becomes clearer.
Understanding Patients’ Rallying Cry
The demand for higher-quality, more personalized medicine didn’t materialize out of thin air.
Physician shortages across primary care and multiple other specialties have led to droughts of qualified doctors in some parts of the country, particularly in rural areas. From an operational standpoint, these shortages are putting greater pressure on physicians to cram in as many patient visits as possible into a single day.
This setup inevitably leaves doctors burned out, unable to provide the high-quality care patients expect and causing patients to feel shortchanged.
When it comes to care, even a little can go a long way. Often times, a 10- to 15-minute patient visit will suffice. But in OB/GYN settings, where providers see everyone from teens to new moms to women in their post-menopausal years, patients frequently require more than a pap smear and/or reproductive health guidelines. Many patients have complex medical histories, complicated by conditions such as diabetes or hypertension.
Even for the easiest patients with the fewest physical health needs, effective OB/GYN care isn’t a stagnant concept, either. Women’s needs are everchanging and complex throughout the continuum of care, and the physiological changes a woman experiences often intersect with psychological changes.
For example, a woman entering early menopause in her mid-40s may feel confused about how to manage sudden physical symptoms (e.g., hot flashes) and mental changes (e.g., depression or anxiety).
But every patient’s needs are different. A 25-year-old whose family history puts her at high risk for developing breast cancer might require more time with a physician to go over breast self-examination techniques or dietary concerns.
Among those who need prenatal care, there’s a subset of patients who require highly specialized services, such as more frequent ultrasounds/monitoring to ensure they have a healthy pregnancy.
There’s another challenge, too, that’s less-discussed: OB/GYN settings typically involve more intimate encounters than other settings, like primary care. Physicians are frequently the first line of defense to help patients improve their mental health, when it is tied to their physical or sexual health (e.g., postpartum depression).
When it comes to technology’s role in helping improve OB/GYN care, the requirements are much more specific since the templates, care and services provided at OB/GYN practices differ greatly from those of a less-specialized office.
Technology that is specifically tailored to the OB/GYN workflow can save doctors time and stress.
Electronic health record (EHR) systems have come a long way, with many specialized options available to providers in specialties like OB/GYN. The systems are built with them in mind. They can keep providers organized, simplify access to medical records and securely send and receive data from other healthcare organizations.
Telemedicine has come a long way, too. Virtual-care platforms can help OB/GYNs and their patients, especially when a telemedicine application is embedded within an EHR system.
One of the best examples of an innovative telemedicine program, overseen by ANGELS (the Antenatal and Neonatal Guidelines, Education and Learning System), provides long-distance maternal-fetal medicine consultations to family doctors, neonatologists, obstetricians and pediatricians in remote areas. For patients in these remote areas, whose care has suffered as a result of shortages, the ability to participate in virtual appointments is a gamechanger.
Innovations like these will undoubtedly make a huge difference going forward – in the lives of patients and providers. Physicians who serve patients throughout the continuum of their lives, like OB/GYNs, will benefit the most from tools that help them to provide the high-quality care that’s increasingly expected by their own patients in the climate of consumerization.
Melissa Allen is Director of Operations for InSync Healthcare Solutions.