Amid the administrative burdens, government regulations and high-pressure environment of the health care industry, it can be difficult for overwhelmed providers to find time to focus on the patient experience.
That's why Galen Medical Group -- a physician-led, multi-specialty medical group with 26 practices serving the greater Chattanooga area -- worked to secure an innovation grant from BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee with the goal of creating more personalized community medicine in the modern, technological world.
"As much as we wanted to provide an open-access approach to health care, there were still both perceived and real barriers to accessing care," says Charlie Lathram, chief administrative officer at Galen. "So we approached [BlueCross] and said, 'What do you think about designing some things specifically that relate to the experience of health care from the patient's point of view?'"
With support from BlueCross, Galen developed the "MyGalen" app, which patients can download onto their smartphones and communicate directly with their providers, look up provider availability and book certain appointments.
"It's not like in the old days where, if I need a doctor, I have to go through a long list of providers to figure out if this person does primary care," Lathram says, "or ask, 'What even is primary care?' or 'Where's the closest location?'"
The overarching goal, he says, is to make it easier for the patient to help their provider care for them and to "meet patients where they are." The result has put patients and providers more at ease, facilitated more timely, accurate care and improved patient engagement.
When using the app, patients are able to send messages and book appointments at their convenience rather than having the limitations and hassle of trying to connect with their provider during office hours.
"That's really been beneficial, too, because the app allows me to schedule an appointment after hours," he says. "We found that that's as important for kids who are the caregivers of their parents as parents who are the caregivers of their kids."
In the process, Galen also opened school and workplace-based clinics as well as an "anytime clinic," the group's version of an urgent care that's an extension of the practice, open 8 a.m.-8 p.m. every day except Sunday.
Galen also worked to ramp up in-house COVID testing during the pandemic and started its own pharmacy, which now features a medication-packing robot to better manage patients' prescription adherence.
"Developing the app allowed us to really go down that whiteboard process, so to speak, of how we do what we do and where are the ways we could do it better," Lathram says. "It's going to be a continual evolution. It's always going to be about how we can do it better."