How Can Health Systems Better Serve Vulnerable Communities During the Pandemic and Beyond?

Hospitals and Health Systems

December 21, 2021

Cultural Competence Series Part 2

The Impact of COVID19

Recent studies suggest that COVID19 disproportionately affects vulnerable populations. Although healthcare disparities are not a new topic, the current pandemic and recent research have brought to light the severity of the disparities that still exist today. Vulnerable populations are communities with social, economic, political, environmental, or health conditions that create limitations and barriers that cause them to be at a higher risk for poor health. Many vulnerable communities have higher infection rates, hospitalizations, mental health issues, delays in care, and even higher mortality rates. The pandemic has further negatively impacted these communities. 

A study by the CDC found that American Indians, Alaska Natives, African Americans, and Latino Americans are three times more likely to require hospitalization and twice as likely to die from COVID19 than white Americans (1). Patients with pre-existing psychiatric conditions have also been found to be at greater risk of infection and worsened medical conditions than their counterparts (2). Another study analyzing populations across different counties found that minority community members with language barriers in the most vulnerable counties were nearly five times more likely to catch COVID19 and had higher death rates (3). These new findings have caused many healthcare organizations to search for ways to close gaps in care and address these disparities to improve care outcomes for these communities. 

Addressing Unique Communities Barriers 

Addressing healthcare disparities is a challenging issue that organizations cannot solve with a one-size-fits-all approach. The cultural factors that cause healthcare disparities are complex, and communities often have multiple compound factors that cause increased health risks. 

Common Factors That Negatively Impact Health

Economic Status: Lower-income families have an increased risk of fluctuations in employment and health coverage. 

Industry and Work Environment: Frontline workers have an increased risk of exposure because there is frequent contact with higher volumes of people. 

Environment: Living in densely populated areas can increase risk. Those experiencing homelessness are also at higher risk.

Longstanding Distrust: Past history of mistreatment of vulnerable communities has lead to long standing distrust and avoidance of healthcare systems. 

Language Barriers: Community members who speak another language or have low levels of English proficiency often struggle to find healthcare facilities that offer translation services. 

Lack of Insurance: uninsured community members have limited access to affordable healthcare. 

Inadequate Transportation: A significant amount of people, especially in rural communities and those who live in metro areas with poorly designed mass transit lack transportation. 

This is just a small list of the types of factors that create barriers for vulnerable communities. There are many more, but each community has members with unique challenges; this is one of the top reasons health systems need flexible solutions that increase accessibility and improve patient engagement. Some of the most effective solutions today are digital platforms that enable communication.


Leveraging Technology to Bridge Gaps in Healthcare

Improve Communication With Multi-Lingual platforms

Organizations that leverage digital platforms can significantly improve patient communication. Utilizing platforms that leverage conversational chatbot technology increases access for all patients. Healthcare chatbots enhance patient-provider communication by streamlining simple tasks such as new patient intake. Health systems can also use chatbot technology to deliver patient education or to help patients with remote triage. The most effective healthcare chatbots are fully customizable and can communicate with patients in multiple different languages. 

Increase Access to Care With Virtual Visits Platforms

Platforms that enable virtual visits help providers reach patients with transportation barriers, mobility issues and help patients meet with doctors who would otherwise be too far away. Virtual visit platforms are especially beneficial for patients who live in areas that have limited healthcare resources. Many health systems in rural areas have been experiencing staff shortages causing delays in care. Some digital platform partners go the extra mile and provide additional translation services, further helping break down language barriers. 

Deliver Educational Materials to Hard to Reach Patients Through SMS

There are several different types of barriers that can lower levels of patient engagement and make it difficult to reach patients. Some patients in vulnerable communities do not have computers. Many patients are hard to reach by phone for a variety of reasons. Leveraging healthcare chatbots that can deliver messages through SMS without an app can help improve patient engagement. They can also help deliver educational materials, guides, appointment reminders, and medication reminders. 

Address Transportation Challenges 

Organizations can also use chatbot technology to help patients in vulnerable communities request and schedule transportation assistance. For example, the Hispanic Health Coalition of Georgia (HHCGA) recently partnered with QliqSOFT to break down transportation barriers for underserved community members. They are now using QliqSOFT’s multi-lingual digital  platform to help community members sign up for rideshare services to help them reach their appointments. 


Final Note

Healthcare disparities have been a prominent topic within the industry for more than a decade. However, recent studies have shown us that vulnerable communities still face long standing healthcare inequities, and the spread of COVID19 has only widened the gap. Fortunately, the pandemic has also caused innovations in technology to accelerate rapidly. Digital healthcare platforms can now be used to break down barriers to care and help health systems better serve vulnerable communities. 

QliqSOFT’s cloud-based digital platform is designed to adapt quickly to meet the industry’s most complex patient engagement needs. Learn more about how First Choice Neurology closed care gaps with our Quincy Chatbot Platform and read the case study Transforming Patient Experiences.

The Author
Brittanie Pervier

Brittanie is a passionate marketing specialist and content creator from Washington state. She has a background in both education and healthcare. Brittanie enjoys researching, crafting, and sharing stories that highlight how modern technology is transforming the healthcare industry.

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