With the rise of consumerism among patients in healthcare, many providers are expanding operations to improve patient satisfaction. But for many vulnerable populations, convenient healthcare is not a commodity—it’s a necessity.
As we know, vulnerable populations, including those who are poor, uninsured, underinsured or at-risk to serious health conditions, are particularly disadvantaged in receiving healthcare. Access is a major barrier to proper healthcare, not just geographically, but also psychologically and logistically. In additional to lacking transportation to health services, many vulnerable populations, particularly minority communities, are skeptical of and intimated by health systems. And when trust does not get in the way of healthcare, availability does. Low-income populations, facing financial pressure, often do not have the time to visit doctors’ offices, especially during work hours.
To truly address the health disparities of nearly unreachable communities, providers cannot wait for people to come seeking care. Physicians and health workers have to make healthcare convenient by meeting people where they are—literally.
This idea of convenience conjures up notions of consumerism, traditionally a retail term. But the reality is that consumerism has caused both industries to break the monotony of the modus operandi. In the retail space, consumerism brought about the concept of guerrilla marketing – attempts to engage people with brands within the flow of their daily life. Companies using these tactics have been able to catch people’s attention by creating a glass-floor effect in skyscraper elevators, turning bus stops into weight scales or simply catching an eye in traffic.
Recently, we have seen healthcare organizations using similar tactics to educate and engage people around their health, without disrupting their normal routines. In St. Louis, public transportation commuters can find mobile health clinics right at their usual MetroLink stations. In St. Louis County, an area particularly vulnerable to healthcare access issues, there are more emergency room visits than the rest of the city. But thanks to the county’s Department of Public Health, commuters can get screened for blood pressure, cholesterol and more, in addition to being referred to more permanent healthcare options—all on their way to work.
In an even more personal approach, Rebalanced-Life Wellness Association has set up health clinics in barbershops to educate black men about the importance of their health. Black men are particularly at-risk for health issues such as heart disease or stroke, yet often mistrust health systems and providers. "We're reaching men in a space where they're already comfortable," said the founder of RLWA. The organization hopes to gain trust where it already exists to educate black men about how they can help prevent the health problems that many of them often face.
Population health efforts like these engage at-risk communities in healthcare outside of where they expect to be engaged. And this integration into, rather than disruption of, daily life could help change the relationship between health disparate communities and health providers. Bringing the healthcare to vulnerable populations, when they often cannot get to it themselves, sends the message that they and their health are a priority. And that is what population health is all about.