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4 Barriers to Care Coordination—and How Technology Can Help

Ontario is seeing an influx of complex patients. And their needs pose a serious challenges to the province’s health care system. In this new climate, practitioners must work together across care provider organizations. As a result, care coordination has never been more critical.

Luckily, there are many devoted professionals who are dedicated to finding patient-centred solutions. Care coordinators and case managers work tirelessly to ensure that patients get what they need, when they need it.

Filling this role means seeing the big picture. It means facilitating smooth care delivery. It also means empowering patients during their health care journeys by making sure their voices are heard. Needless to say, these are monumental tasks.

Currently, it’s a time of transition for care coordination in the province. The future looks bright. That said, if you’re a care coordinator, you’re facing significant barriers that may make it difficult to achieve your goals. In this post, we’ll look at four of the biggest challenges you face—and how technology can help.

1) Insufficient Community Resources

By supporting initiatives like Health Links, Ontario has made care coordination a major priority. But resources will never be unlimited. And they certainly aren’t right now. Just this January, a provincial budgetary watchdog recommended additional cuts to health care spending.

Recent home care funding, support, and planning all represent significant steps toward better home care. But, as any care coordinator knows, gaps in service still exist. Community resources—such as those devoted to mental health care—aren’t always available.

In an American study, care coordinators identified a lack of resources in their communities as a major barrier to success. Often, the local context plays a role in health care performance.

The truth is, some geographical areas have fewer skilled frontline practitioners than others. And of course, community needs also differ. For this reason, the Ontario government has recognized the necessity of “adjust[ing] the Health Links model to address Rural/Northern realities.”

Sometimes, community circumstances can make care coordination particularly difficult. But no matter where you work, there are probably times when you have to scramble to connect the right patients with the right resources.

2) Heavy workloads

Chronic disease rates are on the rise. Care is becoming more complex. And increasingly, the government is moving services into the community—an ambitious transformation of the health care system.

Needless to say, these factors are leading to heavier workloads for a lot health care professionals. Leaders are being asked to take on greater accountability for results. As a care coordinator or case manager, you’re expected to make a measurable difference in your organization’s performance.

Consider the plan announced by the Champlain Local Health Integration Network (LHIN) last year. By the end of 2019, the LHIN plans to serve 10,000 patients through Health Links. Goals this ambitious are bound to result in stress for those who work toward achieving them.

Stress can, in fact, be a great motivator. But only to a point. According to the Yerkes-Dodson Law, higher levels of stress don’t drive efficiency. On the contrary—they can be harmful to productivity.

It goes without saying that feelings of anxiety can be a real problem for health care professionals. Practitioners feel empathy for patients, which means their emotions can run high—alongside their physiological stress.

As a care coordinator, you work closely with patients, discussing every aspect of their care. You’re also under constant pressure to do a lot with the resources you have. As a result, you may be particularly susceptible to this combination of stressors.

3) Relationships with Circle of Care Members

As a care coordinator, there are probably times when you face resistance from practitioners, caregivers—even patients. On the surface, this may look like a straightforward refusal to cooperate. Of course, it’s far more complicated than that.

Patients need someone to turn to when they have questions about their care. Physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals want what’s best for patients—including better care coordination.

So why do communication issues arise? Why is at the sometimes face delays when you’re waiting for critical patient information from care providers? Why do some patients get in touch with doctors, nurses, or specialists in situations where you could best provide assistance?

In many cases, it has to do with confusion about your role. As time goes on, the value you provide will become clear. But right now, care coordinator is still a relatively new position. Many physicians and other health care practitioners don’t know exactly what the job entails.

When it comes to patients, consider this. One recent study found that only one-fourth of patients understand their discharge instructions. This statistic illustrates the importance of having care coordinators in place to help patients navigate the health care system. It also highlights the understandable confusion patients feel when they transition to community care. In some cases, care coordinators are the ones who bear the brunt of patient frustration.

4) Technology Barriers

Technology is powerful. In the health care context, it can multiply the productivity of practitioners and other frontline workers. It allows care teams to communicate in real-time, and rapidly share vital patient information. The result should be better health outcomes and quality of life for more patients.

Unfortunately, many health care professionals have had negative experiences with technology. In some cases, they may have found a new system to be overly complex. Perhaps they’ve dealt with steep learning curves. Maybe adoption has failed in the past due to inconsistent use among their colleagues.

There’s no doubt that opposition to innovation can be a real issue in health care contexts. One study summed up the attitude of many nurses who are asked to use new technology as “resistive compliance.”

And it’s certainly true that, while there’s no shortage to success stories, there have been problems with many health care technologies. As just one example, the systems that electronic medical records operate on are often incompatible.

The right technologies make it simple to store, share, and update patient information—wherever you are in the world. They allow for real-time communication. They can be operated easily by practitioners and (when relevant) patients—including those with complex care needs.

For these reasons, innovation is particularly promising with regard to care coordination. But in many cases, adoption remains a challenge.

The Future of Care Coordination

When it comes to care coordination, there’s no shortage challenges. And innovation holds one of the keys to overcoming them. It may seem odd to suggest innovation as a solution to a problem that, in some cases, has been worsened by technology. But selecting the right technologies—and implementing them correctly—can make all the difference.

By connecting health care professionals in various organizations, the right digital solution can help care coordinators access available community resources for patients. By allowing coordinators to connect with care team members and patients in real time, easy-to-use communication apps can save time, reducing the burden of heavy workloads. Intuitive videoconferencing and information-sharing apps also simplify coordination by improving communication across patient circles of care.

It’s true that some technology can create new barriers. But this issue can be overcome by checking new systems for compatibility with other solutions, and by selecting user-friendly technologies designed specifically for the goals set out by your organization.

Implementation can be trickier—especially in complex health care systems. Luckily, there are resources to help. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides excellent strategies for overcoming the challenges involved in scaling up health care innovation.

Feature image courtesy of emdot


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