Episode 99: ‘How COVID-19 is Reframing Healthcare in America’ with Dr. Shreya Kangovi

Dear Friends & Colleagues,

On Friday March 27th 2020, I launched a limited podcast series addressing how the COVID-19 pandemic is reframing American healthcare.  You can find the introductory episode here.  In this series, I am interviewing future-facing, courageous healthcare leaders and entrepreneurs,  asking two questions:

(1) How is the COVID-19 pandemic immediately changing the way you are delivering healthcare?

(2) How will COVID-19 reframe American healthcare for years to come?

In this interview we’ll be speaking with Dr. Shreya Kangovi about Community Health Workers.  Community Health Workers are individuals who have been hired from their community, and given training and support to provide customized, culturally sensitive, non-clinical care.  Their focus is on the social determinants of health – at the individual level, and delivered in a highly personalized and relationally oriented way.  To my mind, this workforce and approach to care is one of the most untapped opportunities we have to reframe healthcare and create transformative change.  It addresses the overwhelming impact that the Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) have on healthcare outcomes, utilization, costs and the experience of care. The issues of SDOH, chronic disease and disparities of care have been some of the fundamental problems in our healthcare system – problems the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed and exacerbated.  One of the solutions to our present moment and to a better future is the focus of today’s discussion.

Dr. Kangovi and her colleagues have pioneered a rigorous, evidence-based approach to building, deploying and measuring the impact of a Community Health Worker (CHW) program.  Dr. Kangovi is the founder & executive director of the Penn Center for Community Health Workers – a national center of excellence dedicated to advancing health in low-income populations through CHW programs. She and her colleagues have spent nearly a decade creating and refining a world-class CHW model called IMPaCT™ (Individualized Management towards Patient-Centered Targets).  Now, they are offering this program to other institutions to encourage widespread deployment.

In this interview, we’ll dive into the following:

  • Six major problems in healthcare – caused and/or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic – that are leading to American deaths.
  • What Dr. Kangovi refers to as the “structural racism” embedded in our healthcare delivery system – and what can be done to reverse it.
  • A detailed description of the Community Health Worker approach to COVID-19 contact tracing, and…
  • The one critical question that drives the highly effective and personalized IMPaCT™ Community Health Worker approach.

The Community Health Worker model is proven to be cost effective, replicable, and complementary. However, in order to implement this model throughout the country, we need a system of care that pays for outcomes, not for procedures or transactions.  Fee-For-Service payment is the “big but” in American healthcare. This has been a common mantra that has emerged in most of the interviews I’ve conducted during this pandemic.  If we shifted to a capitated, value-based payment approach (at least with primary care), we would be able to rapidly and easily deploy effective, humanistic solutions such as Community Health Workers.

From my perspective, one of the most important lessons the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is that Fee-For-Service payment makes both providers and patients vulnerable. It is unsustainable, and frankly harmful to the health of the American public and the American economy.  It’s also not the type of compensation model that fosters meaningful, relationship-enhancing careers for primary care providers as well as specialists. We can talk about a lot of things, but until we fix this one major impediment, we will be propagating an out-dated and misaligned approach to healthcare delivery.  My hope is that this current crisis serves as a catalyst for changing that, and addressing many of the other fundamental flaws in our healthcare system, like disparities in care.  We need courageous leaders to speak up, step up, collaborate across the various stakeholders, and to take directed actions to create a new, and more humanistic, approach to healthcare.

Until next time, be safe and be well.

Zeev Neuwirth, MD