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At a time when community health clinics across the country have rushed to care for their low-income and Medicaid patients who have been hit hard by COVID-19, they have lost an estimated $4 billion over the first eight months of the pandemic, according to data from HRSA’s Health Center COVID-19 Survey.

 Meanwhile, the operating costs for FQHCs and CHCs have risen as they perform widespread COVID-19 testing, administer vaccines and conduct care remotely. These pandemic-related services require clinics to purchase new technology, special supplies, and PPE, adding to their financial burden.

Automating Medicaid patient outreach

One straightforward strategy that FQHCs can quickly implement to bring in much-needed revenue and new patients while freeing up overworked staff is to automate outreach to their lists of assigned Medicaid patients. 

 Currently, clinic frontline staff manually call potential Medicaid patients to set up an initial appointment. Unfortunately, this labor-intensive activity – when staff costs represent between 50 to 60% of a health system’s operating revenue – widely fails to generate a first-time visit. 

On average, fewer than 10 percent of Medicaid patients schedule an initial appointment despite substantial efforts from clinic staff. 

Phone calls are ineffective in reaching patients

Clinic staff struggles to connect with patients through phone calls for a variety of reasons.  Phone calls are disruptive, time-consuming and many people are unable to answer personal calls while at work. 84 percent of consumers won’t answer a call from an unknown number and only 18 percent of people listen to voicemails from numbers they don’t recognize. 

As a result, staff must exert more effort to reach Medicaid patients, calling over and over, until they are successful. An unintended result can be an increase in call volumes which can lead to placing more patients on hold.  

Studies show most patients prefer texts

In resounding numbers, patients prefer texts for convenience, speed, and flexibility. 

In WELL’s experience working with hundreds of healthcare organizations for underserved patients, this population is much more likely to receive and respond to texts than phone calls and emails. 

The key is access — you have to meet people where they are. You have to be so convenient that it doesn’t feel like any effort is being put into obtaining healthcare.” 

– Guillaume de Zwirek, WELL™ Health founder and CEO 

When the frontline staff at a leading FQHC in California stopped spending hours calling their list of assigned Medicaid patients and used the WELL™ Community Outreach feature to automatically text them instead, the results were stunning. The number of scheduled first-time appointments shot up from the single digits to 32%.

Consistent with earlier research—and counter to common assumptions about people with Medicaid—many in this group are eager and able to use technology to engage with the health care system and health plans and to manage their health.” 

– Deloitte Insights: Pandemic’s impact on health insurance trends, August 2020 

WELL™ Community Outreach enables messaging everyone

By implementing WELL Community Outreach, FQHCs can message their entire community even if the person is not enrolled as a patient in their EHR. Clinics can provide new Medicaid patients with the care they need while drastically reducing the time their staff spends on acquiring them. 

Simple to use, Community Outreach automates and accelerates the communication process for converting potential patients on assigned Medicaid lists to patient visits in clinics. With this functionality, FQHCs can:

  • Upload CSV or Excel lists of assigned Medicaid patients to WELL. Even though these patients do not exist in the EHR nor have an assigned MRN, they can still be messaged via WELL. 
  • Write a customized text to these patients or use a recruitment message template from WELL, inviting them to set up an initial appointment. Messages can be delivered in one of 19 languages, conveying a professional and welcoming tone.
  • Send a secure text to a predetermined population of any size in minutes. The text will come from the clinic’s existing phone number. The patient does not need to download an app, log on to a portal, or use the internet and a data plan. 
  • Watch appointment slots quickly fill up as WELL automatically schedules appointments for patients who text back “yes.” The WELL platform intelligently communicates through texting with patients to manage the details of their appointments, including answering common questions such as, “Where are you located?” or “Where do I park?”  Patients never have to wait more than a few seconds for a response. Staff can easily join the text conversation at any time they are needed. If a patient does not respond, a slightly revised, follow-up text can be sent via WELL’s powerful automation engine at intervals set by the clinic.
  • Receive concrete data analytics about when the text was delivered, opened, and read. In addition to this real-time visibility, clinics will always have a unified, easy-to-reference record of each single text message conversation.

Benefits of WELL™ Community Outreach 

1) Add more patients without adding more work 

WELL Community Outreach enables FQHCs to effectively and efficiently reach and recruit potential Medicaid patients. At the same time, this feature significantly reduces staff’s workload by decreasing call volume and giving them back the many hours they would normally spend working the phones.   

According to a November 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation study, Medicaid enrollment will continue to increase in the millions so FQHC assigned lists will likely grow. WELL Community Outreach can help clinics meet this need. 

2) Improve access to care at a critical time  

Medicaid patients are at great risk when it comes to COVID-19 since nationwide, five million essential workers get health coverage through Medicaid. They also have a greater propensity to suffer from chronic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. The pandemic has also caused many to fall behind in screenings, vaccinations, and preventative care, further jeopardizing patient health. 

WELL Community Outreach can also ensure underserved populations don’t miss out on the critical care they should receive, helping to close health equity gaps. With WELL, FQHCS can quickly increase patient access to much-needed appointments, improving health outcomes at the individual and community levels. 

3) Ramp up revenue, cut labor costs 

WELL Community Outreach will help FQHCs increase patient visits and revenue at a time when health center visits have not returned to pre-pandemic levels and many clinics are losing profits. With labor representing between 50 to 60% of a healthcare organization’s operating revenue, it’s less financially feasible for frontline staff to spend time on rote tasks like plodding through phone lists. One FQHC that WELL worked with to pilot the Community Outreach program spent about 5000 hours a year to do outreach. Their call center rates were an average of $22 an hour so WELL ultimately helped them to alleviate an estimated $110,000 in administrative costs.

4) Increase patient satisfaction

Patients measure their experience not just on the quality of clinical care but on how the non-clinical details are managed.  For example, a 2016 Accenture report on patient loyalty found that 61% of patients would switch providers to get an appointment quickly.  

Through texting communications, WELL Community Outreach demonstrates to potential patients that the clinic values their patients’ time and that they are in sync with how people today manage their schedules. These small but significant signals can build trust and set clinics on the road to nurturing long-term relationships. 

When Altura Centers for Health, an FQHC in Tulare, California, used WELL for automatic appointment scheduling, its patient satisfaction scores doubled

“Patients love it,” said David Ramirez, clinical support technician at Altura, whose busy patients appreciate spending less time waiting on the phone. 

5) Increase staff happiness  

Mission-driven clinics pride themselves on going above and beyond to better serve their patient population. WELL Community Outreach enables them to do more of that by lowering call volumes so staff can focus on higher-value tasks instead. Easing a staff’s administrative burden can also make them happier and more productive.

Contact us today to see how your FQHC can see more assigned Medicaid patients, secure more revenue and surpass your patients’ expectations with WELL™ Community Outreach.