Category Archives: Access and barriers to care

Jun 27 2013

The Role of Emergency Departments

Emergency departments (EDs) play a key role in the nation’s health care system, according to a RAND Corporation study commissioned by the Emergency Medicine Action Fund, and policy-makers should pay closer attention to their operations—particularly their role as a “gateway to inpatient treatment.” It also is important to better integrate EDs into inpatient and outpatient settings, the new report says.

EDs have become an important source for hospital admissions. Nearly all of the inpatient admissions growth between 2003 and 2009 was due to an increase in scheduled admissions from EDs, the report finds, particularly among Medicare beneficiaries. As a result of this shift, ED physicians served as the major decision makers for approximately half of all hospital admissions.

The study also finds that most patients visited the ED for a non-emergent health problem because they believed they lacked a viable alternative or because they were sent by a health care provider. “Almost all of the physicians we interviewed—specialist and primary care alike—confirmed that office-based physicians increasingly rely on EDs to evaluate complex patients with potentially serious problems, rather than managing these patient themselves,” the report says. EDs also support primary care practices by performing complex diagnostic workups.

“Evidence generated by our study and other published work indicates that efforts to reduce non-emergent and non-urgent use of EDs are most likely to succeed if they focus on providing convenient and affordable options outside the ED, rather than directing ED staff to turn patients away,” the study concludes. EDs should be better integrated into inpatient and outpatient settings through more interconnected health information technology, greater user of care coordination, and interprofessional collaboration.

Read the report.

Jun 21 2013

"My Definition of Diversity Was Altered When I Had the Opportunity to Experience Life Differently"

Cindy Anderson, PhD, RN, WHNP-BC, FAHA, FAAN, is a professor and associate dean for research at the College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines, University of North Dakota. A Robert Wood Johnson Nurse Faculty Scholar, she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Salem State College, and both a Master of Science degree in parent-child nursing and a PhD in physiology from the University of North Dakota. This is part of a series of posts looking at diversity in the health care workforce.


I was born and raised in the Boston area which we always referred to as the “melting pot.”  My grandparents emigrated from Eastern Europe and I grew up hearing stories of the “Old Country” which included both fond memories and atrocities that drove them to leave their homes and find a better way of life in America. As a second-generation American, I have always embraced the common and unique perspectives of others from a variety of backgrounds.


I began my career as an Air Force nurse, advancing my opportunity to engage with others from varied backgrounds and cultures. In the course of my career, I found myself stationed at the Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. My initial perceptions were based upon the stereotype that North Dakota was a rural, isolated state with little diversity. My misperceptions were quickly reversed when I had a chance to engage with the community. My awareness and respect for the unique diversity of rural North Dakota has steadily grown over the last three decades which I have been fortunate to spend in this great state.

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Jun 6 2013

Gains in Iowa and Nevada for Patients, Nurses

The Iowa Supreme Court ruled last week that advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) can supervise fluoroscopy, a high-tech X-ray and imaging procedure. The high court ruling was in response to a challenge by three nursing organizations to an earlier decision from a district court.

“We believe the district court erred in second-guessing the department of public health and nursing board on the adequacy of ARNP training to supervise fluoroscopy,” the Iowa Supreme Court wrote. “The record affirmatively shows ARNPs have been safely supervising fluoroscopy and are adequately trained to do so… Allowing ARNP supervision of fluoroscopy improves access to healthcare for rural Iowans and helps lower costs.”

Experts say the ruling has implications for patients, especially those living in rural areas with limited access to doctors, who will be able to get test results more quickly. That can alleviate fears if the fluoroscopy shows that a patient does not have a serious health problem or, conversely, it can facilitate quicker treatment if a patient needs it.

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May 2 2013

A Personal Mission: Bridging the Oral Health Care Gap

Monique Trice, 24, is a University of Louisville School of Dentistry student who will complete her studies in 2015. Trice completed the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) in 2008 at the University of Louisville site. Started in 1988, SMDEP (formerly known as the Minority Medical Education Program and Summer Medical and Education Program), is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation–sponsored program with more than 21,000 alumni. Today, SMDEP sponsors 12 sites, with each accepting up to 80 students per summer session. This is part of a series of posts looking at diversity in the health care workforce.


Diversity is more than ethnicity. It also includes geography, perspective, and more. I was raised in Enterprise, Ala., which is in Coffee County. The community’s demographic and geographic makeup set the stage for an oral health care crisis. Here’s how:

  • Enterprise is a community of 27,000 and just 15 licensed general dentists, three Medicaid dental providers, and zero licensed pediatric dentists to service Coffee County, a population of 51,000. In 2011, Alabama’s Office of Primary Care and Rural Health reported that 65 of the state’s 67 counties were designated as dental health shortage areas for low-income populations.
  • According to this data, more than 260 additional dentists would be needed to bridge gaps and fully meet the need. For some residents, time, resources, and distance figure into the equation, putting dental care out of reach. In some rural communities, an hour’s drive is required to access dental services.
  • Lack of affordable public transportation creates often-insurmountable barriers to accessing dental care.

Growing up in a single-parent household, my siblings and I experienced gaps in dental care. Fortunately, we never suffered from an untreated cavity from poor oral health care, but many low-income, underserved children and adults are not so lucky.

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Jan 11 2013

Morphing Medical Practices into Health Practices

Liana Orsolini-Hain, PhD, RN, ANEF,FAAN, is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health Policy Fellows program (20112012), through which she worked at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Immediate Office of the Secretary. This post is part of the "Health Care in 2013" series.


My New Year’s resolution for the U.S. health system involves all of us. During my tenure as an RWJF Health Policy Fellow in the Immediate Office of the Secretary of Health, I learned how a small percentage of Americans use up a majority of health care resources.  The percentage of individuals who consume a high volume of resources will likely increase as we age, with little regard for our own level of health. 

We all need to be a part of the solution to making access to health care and access to health sustainable for current and future generations by caring about and for our own health. Do we exercise regularly? Do we get enough sleep? Do we eat fruits and vegetables every day? Have we stopped smoking? Do we manage our stress levels? Do we practice what we preach?

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Dec 7 2012

What the Election Means for Health and Health Care… A Glimpse into the Future

Eileene Shake, DNP, RN, NEA-BC, is CEO of the Foundation for Nursing Excellence. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Human Capital Blog asked scholars and experts to consider what the election results will mean for health and health care in the United States.


The 2012 election is over and now, as health care leaders, we are trying to figure out how to move forward with implementing the Affordable Health Care Act (ACA).  Yes, there will be an influx of Americans entering the health care system who did not have access to health care in the past. The impact on nursing will be significant as nurses are being recognized as important to providing care to the large number of new patients entering the system.  Nurses will be key players working on interdisciplinary teams to redesign how health care is delivered. Nurses and advanced practice nurses will need to practice to the full extent of their education in order to care for the increased number of citizens entering the health care system.

There will be less resistance to implementing the ACA and more emphasis will be placed on how to implement it.  Hospitals are already putting processes in place to reduce readmission rates for patients with chronic disease.  New programs are being implemented to manage health care after the patient is discharged to reduce readmission rates. Nurses are following up with patients to ensure they are taking their medications, checking their blood pressure, and following their therapeutic diets. It is important to note that there will still be some resistance to implementing the ACA from states that do not feel they can afford to pay for the health care program. 

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Nov 5 2012

Lesson from APHA: For Most Immigrants, Immigration Policy is Health Policy and Vice Versa

Tiffany D. Joseph, PhD, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Scholar in Health Policy Research at Harvard University (2011-2013).  This post is part of a series in which RWJF scholars, fellows and alumni who are attending the American Public Health Association annual meeting reflect on the experience.


It was incredibly exciting to attend the American Public Health Association (APHA) meeting for the first time! As a sociologist and current RWJF Health Policy Research Scholar, I am thrilled to be at a multidisciplinary conference with an explicit focus on all aspects of health: outcomes, disparities, coverage, service utilization. You name it, there is a session for it.

The opening was especially motivating and inspiring as Dr. Reed Tuckson and Gail Sheehy provided insightful talks on the relevance of preventive health throughout the life course and how public health professionals must continue to work to improve access to, and quality of, health care for a U.S. population that is increasingly racially, ethnically, and socioeconomically diverse.

U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi also stopped by, unannounced, to welcome the APHA to San Francisco and thank its members for their steadfast commitment to, and support for, passage and implementation of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or ACA).  Needless to say, everyone in attendance was thrilled and excited by her surprise visit and warm words.

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Oct 3 2012

Physician Pessimism Could Contribute to Shortage, Reduced Access to Care

In the next one to three years, more than half of the nation’s physicians plan to retire, cut back on the number of patients they see, work reduced hours or take other steps that would reduce patient access to care, a survey from The Physicians Foundation finds. According to A Survey of America’s Physicians, which polled more than 13,000 physicians, a continuation of this trend could mean the loss of 44,250 physicians from the workforce in the next four years.

The survey finds that physicians are seeing fewer patients per day than they did in 2008, and 26 percent of physicians have closed their practices to Medicaid patients. Fifty-two percent have already or are planning to limit Medicare patient access to their practices.

More than three-quarters (77.4 percent) of the physicians surveyed are somewhat or very pessimistic about the future of the medical profession, and more than 84 percent agree that “the medical profession is in decline.” However, younger physicians, female physicians, employed physicians (as compared to those who own practices) and primary care physicians are generally more positive about their profession.

“The survey was conducted in the context of one of the most transformative eras in the history of modern healthcare,” the introduction to the study notes. “Physicians are at the vortex of these changes… It is a challenging and uncertain time to be a doctor. The results of the survey reflect this uncertainty and should be taken in the context of current events. As the course of healthcare reform becomes clearer, attitudes and perspectives may change. However, we believe the survey reveals what doctors are thinking today and is relevant to healthcare professionals, policy makers, media members, and to anyone who has been seen by a physician or who will be.”

Read the survey.

Apr 10 2012

Making Oral Health Care Accessible

Former Health & Human Services Secretary Louis Sullivan, MD, penned an op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times making the case for devising more effective ways to deliver dental care to poor or rural communities across the nation.

The Secretary notes that, in 2009, 83,000 emergency room visits resulted from preventable dental problems. “In my state of Georgia,” he writes, “visits to the ER for oral health problems cost more than $23 million in 2007. According to more recent data from Florida, the bill exceeded $88 million. And dental disease is the No. 1 chronic childhood disease, sending more children in search of medical treatment than asthma. In a nation obsessed with high-tech medicine, people are not getting preventive care for something as simple as tooth decay.”

He goes on to list several reasons: 50 million of us live in poor or rural areas without a dentist; most dentists do not accept Medicaid; and we have a dentist shortage that will only be exacerbated when 5.3 million children are added to Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program by way of the Affordable Care Act.

Sullivan argues that the federal government should put programs in place to train more dentists. But more than that, he argues for training dental therapists “who can provide preventive care and routine procedures like sealants, fillings and simple extractions outside the confines of a traditional dentist’s office.” He says such an approach has been particularly effective in Alaska, where the state has recruited and trained dental therapists to serve many of that state’s most remote communities, including many that are accessible only by plane, dogsled or snowmobile.

A recently announced effort by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) takes aim at the very same problem. The Oral Health Workforce initiative is designed to improve access to oral health care by identifying and studying replicable models that make the best use of the health and health care workforce to provide preventive oral health services.

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Mar 30 2012

The Role of the Workforce in Access to Oral Health Care

By David Krol, MD, MPH, FAAP, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Human Capital Portfolio Team Director and Senior Program Officer


For many Americans, a visit to the dentist is a rarity—not by choice, but because their health plans don’t cover dental care, they can’t afford it, or because there is no dentist anywhere near where they live or work. If you’re on Medicare, you know that dental isn’t covered. If you’re part of the VA system, you know that dental benefits are treated differently. If you’re an adult on Medicaid or serve adult patients who are on Medicaid, you know the chances are slim that there’s great coverage for dental care, unless you are lucky to be in a state that still covers it. Why does this happen and what can result?

A study recently released by the Pew Center on the States offers startling data on the scope of the problem and its consequences. In 2009, some 830,000 Americans visited an emergency department for a preventable dental condition. It should be obvious that the emergency department isn’t the best place to seek dental care. The same year, 56 percent of Medicaid-enrolled children got no dental care whatsoever, not even a routine exam. That’s no care even with insurance for it!

Those numbers are alarming for many reasons, but mostly because they reveal a significant public health challenge confronting the nation: Many Americans simply aren’t getting the oral care they need, at any age, including the basic preventive services and education that can detect oral disease in early stages. They are putting their health at risk, and increasing the strain on an already-overwhelmed health care system.

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