What “healthcare access” are we really striving for?

This week I’m attending the SHSMD22 conference – an event for healthcare marketers and strategists – so I thought it would be interesting to unpack the term “healthcare access” with the #HCLDR community this week.

Over that past year, “improving healthcare access” has become a popular phrase. I see it on company booths. I hear it mentioned on podcasts. It’s on the lips of a lot of senior leaders in healthcare. However, what’s becoming more clear to me is that “access” means different things to different people. For some, improving access means addressing the last mile of Internet connectivity. For others it means being able to quickly find and book an appointment with a primary care physician or specialists. It can also mean access to community support programs, better insurance coverage, improved health literacy, and of course more equitable care.

All of these are problems that need to be solved…but I can’t help but wonder, are we spreading ourselves too thin? Furthermore, are there access challenges that should be prioritized over others? Is solving healthcare affordability more of an issue than ensuring people have adequate transportation to get to their appointments? Does it even have to be an either/or?

One of my fears is that the momentum behind improving healthcare access will fade quickly because it is a nebulous buzzword-of-the-moment. I liken it to “living healthier”. That’s a consumer buzzword that was super-hot a few years ago, but it is so amorphous it got used by everyone from makers of hot tubs to makers of cereal. Somewhere along the way, those words lost their impact on me because it wasn’t clear to me what I should prioritize.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (formerly known as the Institute of Medicine) define access to health care as the “timely use of personal health services to achieve the best possible health outcomes.

HHS’s Healthy People 2030 program makes it clear how they define the problem of access and what they see as the best way to address it – increasing insurance coverage:

Many people in the United States don’t get the health care services they need. Healthy People 2030 focuses on improving health by helping people get timely, high-quality health care services.

About 1 in 10 people in the United States don’t have health insurance.1 People without insurance are less likely to have a primary care provider, and they may not be able to afford the health care services and medications they need. Strategies to increase insurance coverage rates are critical for making sure more people get important health care services, like preventive care and treatment for chronic illnesses.

HCLDR community member Abner Mason and his company Same Sky Health is also tacking healthcare access by addressing the lack of patient engagement in care. They are building solutions that factor in the ”ethnicity, race, language, cultural norms and values” of patients.

I’m very interested to hear the opinions from the HCLDR Community on healthcare access. Join the HCLDR weekly tweetchat on Tuesday September 13th at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here). We will be discussing the following questions:

  • Q1 How would you define “healthcare access”?
  • Q2 When you see healthcare organizations and vendors talk about “improving access” what do you think they are working on
  • Q3 What aspect of healthcare access should be prioritized? What is the most dire need right now?
  • Q4 Have you seen or heard of any technologies, policies, or approaches have improved healthcare access?


Access to Health Care, CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/access-to-health-care.htm, accessed 11 September 2022

Bhatt, Jay DO, MPH, MPA; Bathija, Priya JD, MHSA. “Ensuring Access to Quality Health Care in Vulnerable Communities”, Academic Medicine, September 2018, https://journals.lww.com/academicmedicine/fulltext/2018/09000/ensuring_access_to_quality_health_care_in.13.aspx, accessed 11 September 2022

Healthcare Access Rankings, US News, https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/health-care/healthcare-access, accessed 11 September 2022

“Health Care for All: A Framework for Moving to a Primary Care-Based Health Care System in the United States”, AAFP, https://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/health-care-for-all.html, accessed 12 September 2022

“5 ways to improve access to health care”, American Medical Association, https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/patient-support-advocacy/5-ways-improve-access-health-care, accessed 12 September 2022

Toscos T, Carpenter M, Flanagan M, Kunjan K, Doebbeling BN. “Identifying Successful Practices to Overcome Access to Care Challenges in Community Health Centers: A “Positive Deviance” Approach”, Health Services Research and Managerial Epidemiology, 8 March 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5846905/, accessed 12 September 2022

Image Credit

Photo by Pixabay: https://www.pexels.com/photo/ambulance-architecture-building-business-263402/

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