Reaching underserved patients means addressing non-clinical challenges, embracing trial and error

Next week at Health 2.0 in Santa Clara, Dr. Vik Bakhru will offer his advice to providers and startups looking to expand their reach to the patients most in need.
By Dave Muoio
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ConsejoSano COO Dr. Vik Bakhru has had a taste of several different healthcare perspectives throughout his career. Since his early days of a general surgery residency, Bakhru has gone on to found an international medical non-profit, lead healthcare administration as a director at New York Presbyterian, serve as the health lead of an equity investment group’s travel medicine portfolio company and run the operations of a San Francisco telemedicine startup.

All this means that he’s had a lot of time to observe the areas in which healthcare providers are falling short — or in the case of his current position at the multicultural healthcare technology platform, the populations for whom the system isn’t doing enough.

“When I think about the provider world, the compensation for seeing a patient on government insurance is not always in the same range that a provider might receive from a private insurance company for a different patient,” Bakhru told MobiHealthNews. “It’s really hard to get people in to see a doctor. So, we [at ConsejoSano] end up working through federally qualified health centers and other facilities that are committed to serving the underserved — typically nonprofits, nonprofit clinics and so forth — to help make that process easier for patients to get in.”

Next week, Bakhru will be speaking on stage at Health 2.0 about his experiences and insight into the provision of care and how technology can improve its impact. And while his business specializes in culturally sensitive messaging and customized outreach programs for low-income or multicultural groups, he also has some more general advice for providers looking to better care for these patient populations.

“Create more appointment availability for underserved patients. Then you can really focus on how do you engage with the patient and effectively connect them to the open appointments,” he said. “We need to create a concierge-type service for patients that lead very busy lives. They may work two jobs, they need to take two buses. If the first bus is running late or they miss it, that creates a no-show where they can’t make it due to a transportation challenge or other social determinants.”

This kind of context sensitivity is applicable to those outside of the hospital as well. Recalling his time spent working on international care, Bakhru said that any health tech startup looking to making a scalable impact will need to consider the differences in populations and national health markets right from the get-go.

“Startups that are thinking of innovating, you really shouldn’t start your process thinking your product is going to apply to all geographies evenly,” he said. “You need to be sensitive to the local environment and all the political factors, economic factors, systemic factors, all the various elements that go into figuring out if a particular innovation will succeed."

If care and new technologies are to be made accessible to everyone, the broader healthcare system may need to shed some of its aversion to risk. But that doesn’t necessarily mean throwing caution and rigor out the window — rather, he said, it’s about finding the time to move outside of comfort spaces and increasing the focus on efforts that can yield long-term benefits.

“Best practices are generated through a process of trial and error,” he said. “Commit to trying different tools and incorporating them into your practice — certainly a startup, but also the bigger established companies are willing to do three pilots and willing to let you demo and understand the technology. It’s just that as a provider it’s hard to make that choice of ‘Should I see a few more patients today, or get a sales rep to spend an hour to talk about their tools that are going to solve all my problems?’ People are defaulting to word of mouth and online reviews, but committing to technology and incorporating innovation is the first step. If you’re not willing to do that, it’s very hard to see a path toward making things better.”

But this sort of willingness to step outside the bounds will only go so far if an organization is unaware of what kinds of options are out there, he noted, stressing the need for administrators and clinicians alike to expose themselves to innovative ideas and potential business partners.

The Santa Clara conference will showcase cutting-edge innovation transforming healthcare Sept. 16-18.

“Companies struggle to get in front of clinicians; they spend a lot of money trying to do that in fact. If we are able, as a community of clinicians come together and agree that we’re going to reach out and see what’s out there. Instead of an hour of Googling and moments of frustration, coming to conferences like [Health 2.0] and supporting companies that have paid heavily for tables out there, taking a little time learning what’s out there. If you have four doctors, have each one go visit three or four tables and have a quick conversation. And decide when to walk away — everything’s still in your control, but take that time.”

Bakhru will be speaking at the Health 2.0 Providers Symposium on September 16 at 11:40 a.m.

Health 2.0

The Santa Clara conference will showcase cutting-edge innovation transforming healthcare Sept. 16-18.