There used to be one way to get healthcare-by physically visiting a physician's office or hospital. If you didn't have one of those in your community, you either went without or traveled a great distance to get care. Once you saw your doctor, you typically waited weeks for test results and answers about the type and cost of care you might need.
Thankfully, today's rapidly changing technology landscape is opening a world of remarkable possibilities helping to break down these kinds of barriers in healthcare. I have witnessed these advancements first-hand as both a patient and the CEO of Sutter Health, an integrated, not-for-profit health system based in Northern California that serves 3 million people in one of the most diverse parts of the nation. More and more of our patients can schedule appointments online, confer with a clinician on a video visit, email their care team with questions, visit a walk-in care clinic, check their symptoms online, and more.
And while I have seen so much progress during my 30+ years in the healthcare industry, I also see that boundaries still exist today-boundaries create persistent gaps in care that contribute to a growing healthcare crisis in our nation.
Across the U.S., people in underserved communities - especially the urban poor and people in rural areas - still cannot access the care and services they need, particularly specialty care like mental health services or effective prenatal care.
There are many reasons it's challenging to serve these communities: physician shortages, rural health facility closures, low reimbursement rates for government-funded care, lack of services and shelter for ever-increasing homeless populations, and inadequate mental health care access and funding, to name a few. These challenges are experienced across the U.S. healthcare system and in every corner of the country.
So how do we rise to the challenge and bring care to people in underserved communities? It's a tough job to tackle, especially when people's needs can transcend the traditional boundaries of healthcare into things like access to healthy food or a safe place to live.
No organization can solve this challenge alone, particularly when to help those at greatest risk, we often have to address personal factors that fall outside our area of expertise.
This is why partnerships are crucial to how we continue to improve the quality of healthcare and make it more affordable and accessible, for everyone.
To truly add value, partnerships-including promising innovations and new technologies-must be rooted in human dignity and driven by the human experience. The partnerships must help streamline or simplify people's lives or the care we provide, and do it without adding extra costs.
Take one of Sutter's recent collaborations as an example. We've teamed up with Ada Health to offer a personalized, on-demand health assessment for patients. After patients answer a series of personalized questions about their medical history and current symptoms, we can quickly outline for patients the most likely causes of their symptoms and offer appropriate next step care options-everything from self-care, to a walk-in clinic or, for more urgent cases, emergency care.
Partnerships like this show how remarkably different things can be in healthcare. Because tools like Ada aren't just a way to serve tech-savvy patients. They can be so much more: Tools to bring health information to parts of the world where there are no providers. Places where patients still have to travel those many miles to get the care they need. Making it easier for them - and all of us - to make informed decisions, and potentially save time and avoid unnecessary costs.
I'm often asked if I'm hopeful about the future of healthcare in the U.S. My answer is always a resounding "Yes," because we've done so much to break down boundaries in healthcare. But our work isn't done.
The future of healthcare is here, right now, it's just unevenly distributed. More than ever, we need to work together to unlock new possibilities and open ourselves to new ways of providing care that will improve outcomes and costs for all patients, including those among us with the greatest needs.
Sarah Krevans is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Sutter Health, a role that she has held for more than four years. She oversees Sutterâ€™s integrated network of 14,000 clinicians, 24 hospitals, outpatient services, research facilities, and home health and hospice care.