Strengthening rural patient-physician relationships with the help of medical assistants and scribes in North Carolina

Telehealth services have become a driving force for expanded health care access, enabling assessments and diagnoses for those unable to travel to a provider’s office. During the COVID-19 pandemic, demand for telehealth services increased and primary care practices, particularly those servicing rural areas, faced challenges in meeting demand for this hybrid practice approach. In some areas of North Carolina, this strain on practice resources has resulted in fewer services offered and longer wait times for patients.

In response, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of North Carolina and the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians (NCAFP) are collaborating to help make hybrid care sustainable for practices in North Carolina. Funding from UnitedHealthcare will provide three rural practices with $100,000 each to employ medical scribes and assistants.

Medical scribes take responsibility for documentation of all interactions between patients and physicians for the entirety of a provided service.1 Scribes upload written documents to online databases, complete paperwork required for each service and communicate with other departments on behalf of the physician.

According to the American Medical Association, medical assistants and scribes afford doctors more time to focus on patient care.2 Additional benefits include:

  • Improved patient interactions given the increased time afforded to physicians
  • Enhanced physician job satisfaction given reduced documentation burden
  • Strengthened sense of teamwork as the scribe works between the physician, patient and additional departments
  • Return on investment due to improved productivity and thereby increased revenue
  • Mitigated physician burnout through a reduction of administrative inefficiencies

The three practices that will be participating in this pilot program are MedNorth Health Center in Wilmington, Clinton Medical Clinic in Clinton and the Hodges Family Practice, Inc. in Asheboro.

MedNorth Health Center is a federally qualified health center that provides primary and preventive health services to underserved populations regardless of ability to pay.

Clinton Medical Clinic (CMC) provides primary medical care to adult and pediatric populations as well as a large Medicaid population. CMC aims to improve health care accessibility through availability of scheduled appointments as well as walk-ins.

Hodges Family Practice offers traditional medical services in addition to lifestyle medicine and wellness. They provide a chronic care management program and remote patient monitoring program as well as 24/7 access to health care services through phone calls and an online portal.

These practices will receive half the funding at the start of the initiative and the remainder six months after completion of onboarding new staff members. Evaluations regarding the pilot program’s success will be determined based on pre- and post-intervention data provided by the practices.

We at UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of North Carolina and NCAFP are thrilled to work together on this innovative program. As additional support is provided to the pilot practices, we anticipate greater access to health care for some of the most vulnerable individuals in our state.

Removing the up-front financial risk to these practices will enable them to increase capacity and aligns with UnitedHealthcare’s comprehensive effort to reduce administrative burdens to providers. Together, we are creating a health care model that will simplify the health care delivery experience for members and network care professionals.

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