By: Nancy Shawver,  Guest Blogger 

As a rural healthcare provider, you’ve probably encountered problems like these:

  • Patients are often isolated, travelling long distances just to come to the clinic.
  • Patients may not have the means to pay for healthcare, as rural incomes tend to be lower than in urban areas, and rural populations have more uninsured residents and higher rates of unemployment.
  • There’s almost a cultural bias against seeking help – a romantic value placed on independence and stoicism. There’s a “we’ll get by” mentality often causing patients to wait until it’s too late.

The time is right – Medicare offers special incentives for Federally Qualified and Rural Health Centers (RHC) who focus on prevention. These incentives mean your practice can generate additional revenue while giving your patients a chance to focus on healthy behaviors.

Although this shift can be a difficult adjustment, we believe it is a welcome and wise approach. We work with providers in Rural Health Clinics and underserved areas every day, and we have seen tangible benefits of a prevention-focused approach:

  • Improved patient outcomes, as scored in quality programs in the Uniform Data System (UDS), Healthcare Effectiveness Data and Information Set (HEDIS), and Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act, MACRA
  • Improved revenues stemming from prevention and wellness incentive programs.

Here are three steps you can take to improve your focus on prevention and wellness.

  1. Invite your Medicare patients for a Welcome to Medicare exam (also known as an Initial Preventive Physical Exam) or an Annual Wellness Visit. Give your patients plenty of time to make transportation arrangements and make sure they know there’s no copay required.
  2. Use these visits to include discussions of preventive services, like behavioral therapy for cardiovascular issues or weight loss or smoking cessation. Following a template can help you ask all the right questions to determine what exams or tests your patients may need while they are in your office. (See the Medicare Rural Health Clinic Preventive Services Chart for the list of services you can offer.)
  3. Explain to your patients how they can take control of their wellness. Medicare Advantage programs, such as United Health Services, often include patient incentives for preventive care. Talk with them about healthy lifestyles and behaviors, and offer programs like advance care planning, chronic care management and even telehealth options to overcome the rural isolation. Build trust and show your patients you want them to take ownership of their own health. (See the Center for Medicare Services Rural Health Clinics fact sheet.)

These three steps help address the challenges of visit affordability, patient isolation and the independent ethos of rural life. Why not try these steps to start a new discussion?

Innovative Health Media LLC, or IHM, created the nation’s first electronic template for implementing Medicare’s Annual Wellness Visit.  We are now conducting a study of the effectiveness of Medicare’s Annual Wellness Visit (AWV) and Welcome to Medicare (Initial Preventive Physical Exam or IPPE) in rural or small health clinics. To see if your clinic may be eligible to join, contact us by phone (888-580-3370) or info@awvstudy.org.

Nancy Shawver Consulting offers custom results-oriented communications solutions, including integrated communications & strategic planning, digital media, business writing and editing, research and change management initiative execution. Customers include health care, science and technology firms.