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Improving one’s longevity and receiving quality medical care go hand in hand. While visiting a doctor isn’t everything in the pursuit of a long and healthy life, access to medical care plays an integral role. We see this in life expectancy rates as they relate to preventative care as well as diminished life expectancy caused by health inequality in marginalized groups and the developing world.   Richard Clayton explains.

Self-Care Support

While the onus is primarily on ourselves to take charge of our own health, there’s a certain dependency on medical practitioners in all fields as well. There are many things medical practitioners can do to improve access to quality care and ensure the standard of care is more than adequate for patients from diverse backgrounds. 

Let’s explore how medical practitioners can do their part to improve the quality of care and, as a result, improve longevity for their patients. 

Medical Practitioners
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Create Reminders For Preventative Care

Automated patient reminders and notification systems are relatively new in medicine.

Traditionally, a medical receptionist would call with an appointment reminder based on a patient booking or specialist referral. Currently, automation and technological advances have helped improve patient reminders and increase appointment attendance. Still, it’s not enough.

The existing patient reminder process is based on a reactive response: a patient books an appointment, the practitioner reminds them to attend.

However, it falls short in reminding patients to secure preventative care. Many specialized clinics — optometrists and dentists, for example — use automated reminders to book appointments, so why don’t more general practitioners? 

The challenge faced with preventative care appointments is that they’re often on the back burner in the minds of patients who aren’t experiencing acute medical distress. For example, the busy mom who’s overdue for her annual Well Woman appointment may not realize a year has gone by.

Or, the individual experiencing a resurgence in their depression or anxiety may not have the mental bandwidth to reach out for help but could respond to a check-in email with a booking invitation. It could also apply in the case of a man with a genetic predisposition to heart disease who may receive a reminder message and think, “When was the last time I had my blood pressure checked?”

In the business world, there’s a shift toward proactive customer service, in which a company reaches out before there’s a problem. Medical practitioners in all fields have an opportunity to follow suit. Not only will this help their patients feel valued, but it will also improve practice profitability — it’s a rare occurrence in which everybody wins.

Improving Internal Systems and Workflows

When considering the quality of care and how medical practitioners serve their patients, it’s important to go beyond the surface level. The inner workings of the business side of medical practice also impact how many patients are seen, the quality of care they receive, accuracy in billing and insurance claims, and a plethora of other variables.

Many long-standing medical professionals haven’t updated their software and workflows in years.

Medical doctor
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With technology evolving at such an exponential rate, there’s no excuse for failing to modernize. Medical practitioners can significantly impact the quality of care they offer by improving internal systems and workflows. For example, delegating tasks to a Healthcare Virtual Assistant ensures administrative and clerical work such as updating medical records and sending out referrals gets completed without the risk of employment gaps. 

Centralizing software and updating legacy systems creates the potential for online booking portals that make it easier for patients to triage and access appointments, decreasing wait times and improving the number of patients who can be seen in the span of one week.

Considering the business side of medicine is never pretty, when you consider that misfiled paperwork could delay your access to lifesaving treatments, the connection between medical practice efficiency and patient longevity is apparent.

Creating Accessibility Through Virtual Services

Virtual medicine and remote services have been on an upward trend over the past decade. Then, the global pandemic caused an increase in telehealth service use 78 times over between February 2020 and April 2020. While it’s since leveled out, telehealth use today is still 38 times higher than it was in February 2020.

Unfortunately, many doctors have returned their focus to in-person services when they should be moving toward a blended approach. Pandemic aside, virtual services increase accessibility to those who can’t easily get to a doctor’s appointment. 

Consider those with limited mobility or disabilities who are unable to drive or face additional challenges in getting around. These individuals already face a shorter life expectancy, though fortunately by a smaller margin than in the past. The ability to connect with a medical professional via remote communication could make all the difference.

Consider others who are in financial distress, functioning in a fractured healthcare system, where people die on waitlists — and this is happening not only in impoverished countries.

Finally, consider the challenges a senior citizen in a rural area experiences in getting care or a single mom without access to childcare or reliable transportation. Telehealth solves the problem of access to quality care for a diverse group of people who don’t have the luxury or privilege of engaging in preventative care. As preventative care directly relates to life expectancy, this is a huge deal. 

Improving Access To Screenings and Immunizations Through Clinics

Getting access to cancer screenings and immunizations plays a significant role in preventative care. Hosting clinics focusing on a specific offering offers several benefits to both patients and health care providers.

On the patient side, these clinics serve as a reminder to engage in preventative care. 

The workflow of a clinic is often more efficient and streamlined as work is batched, and all supply needs and visit types will be the same, creating less uncertainty and minimizing the risk of delays.

Medical clinics are often held offsite from the practice in convenient locations to extend community reach. From the business standpoint of medicine, hosting a clinic is profitable. It allows the medical practice to increase productivity and see more patients. Efficiency in planning and workflow contributes to better profitability and offers the potential for community partnerships.

Many employers are starting to see the value in inviting medical practices to host clinics in the workplace for wellness visits, vaccinations, blood collection, and other preventative health measures. This service offers value to the host business as well by helping minimize employee sick time and strengthening employee engagement by facilitating a relationship of trust and value.

Doctors
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Thinking Beyond Symptom Management For Holistic Health

While symptom management is an integral aspect of healthcare, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Unfortunately, many healthcare providers are still of the archaic mindset even if subconsciously that symptom management is the top priority.

Instead, Medical Practitioners Should Prioritize Solving The Root Cause For Even Minor Ailments

When someone has cancer, a healthcare professional will help provide a treatment plan with the goal of eliminating it. However, with chronic pain, mental health issues, and other non-life-threatening ailments, medication is often the main focus. While using medication is an incredible tool, it should go along with an underlying strategy to eventually not require the medication anymore.

While this consideration is controversial we’re all responsible for our own health and wellness, after all, it speaks to a gap in modern medical care: holistic health as a priority. It’s not enough for doctors to tell someone to lose weight or get more sleep; people require support and actionable habits to help them accomplish these tasks. While we are responsible for owning our path to longevity, changing behaviors is a deep, neurological process that’s incredibly difficult to navigate without education and support.

Medical providers can help patients improve longevity by taking a habit-based approach to behavior change with a focus on holistic, preventative health: movement, mindfulness, nutrition, sleep hygiene, and more.

Global Health
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Embracing Data Tracking and Fit Tech

One of the most exciting developments in technology over the past decade is the rise of fit-tech fitness technology in the form of step trackers, health wearables, and fitness watches. These comprehensive devices store a plethora of invaluable data about our lives, beyond what we might notice or remember to tell our doctor at a check-up. 

To date, there have been several clinical trials exploring the efficacy of using fitness trackers for diagnostics, treatment, and recovery. There’s also an upward trend in doctors requesting to see information from smart devices regarding activity levels, heart rate, and cycle tracks.

The benefit of accepting fit-tech as a medical practitioner is having access to tangible data. Yes, fitness trackers have a margin of error, but slightly skewed data that offers detailed insights are better than no data at all. While many patients feel compelled to lie out of shame or embarrassment, data doesn’t. 

Medical education
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Improving Access To Resources and Education

As a patient, it’s always wise to bring a pen and paper to an appointment. Having these tools on hand can serve as a reminder of what questions you want to ask and provide a space for you to note important information. A notepad can also help you remember what the doctor said if you find yourself overwhelmed with negative news, or if you forget details as you get back to your busy day.

Medical practitioners can also help by improving access to resources and information. 

As we’re a quarter of a way into the new millennium, there’s no excuse for not having digital files available online to replace paper handouts. Improving access to education and trustworthy, peer-reviewed research can empower patients to learn more about their ailments from a trusted source. It prevents the challenges of dealing with lost literature and missing information.

Like many other patient-centric improvements listed here, this effort also enhances the business side of  medical practice. Having an online portal improves the patient experience, reduces calls to the office, reduces appointment scheduling, and provides repurposable materials for marketing.

Increasing Doctor To Patient Time

More and more often, it seems as though patients are reporting a feeling of being rushed or unheard during medical appointments. Many doctors have been tasked with the goal of shortening their visit times to get more patients through the door. This push ties into profitability and pressure from other sources, especially for primary care physicians.

This rush creates a plethora of problems for the patient, which could contribute to inadequate treatment, impacting both their quality of life and longevity. The stress of feeling rushed through something important creates frustration and distrust, making the patient less likely to book their preventative screening appointments. Additionally, this experience increases the likelihood that a patient will receive a prescription rather than a holistic-based recommendation to treat the root cause of an issue. 

Medical professionals who feel pressed for time should make every second of the appointment count by practicing active listening and ensuring attention is where it needs to be: on the patient. Dedicated attention and the goal of making each patient feel heard while directing the conversation in a constructive manner could be the difference between life and death for some. 

Remembering The Reason

Finally, medical professionals should remember the reason their job exists: to help people.

We live in a world where the unfortunate reality is that the medical industry is driven by profits. Yet, practitioners can make a difference by slowing down, prioritizing the patient experience, and improving accessibility and empowerment to make a difference in an industry and in life where every precious second counts.

Doctors
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This is a LongevityLive Guest Post.

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Richard Clayton

Richard Clayton owns a gardening shop in Texas. He is an avid gardener and loves sharing his love of plants and flowers. In his spare time he is a freelance writer on health and wellness.

The content in this editorial is for general information only and is not intended to provide medical or other professional advice. For more information on your medical condition and treatment options, speak to your healthcare professional.