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Action Plan 7: Improve Access to Health Care for All

Jennifer Bretsch, MS; Jennifer Faerberg, MHSA; Sarah Hampton; and Rosha Champion McCoy, MD, describe how the AAMC is working on three priority areas to address issues of health care access and equity.

Health care access is a complex and chronic challenge in the United States.

This action plan seeks to improve access to care for people in medically underserved and otherwise marginalized communities by capitalizing on the strengths of the academic medicine community: its integrated mission areas, commitment to evidence-based care, and community collaborations. We seek to identify and advance innovative, effective, and evidence-based strategies that enhance health care access and promote health care equity while supporting high-value care.

Where we are now

  • Building confidence in COVID-19 vaccines and routine pediatric immunizations.
    Now in our final year of the cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we continue to advance strategies to build confidence in the COVID-19 vaccines and routine pediatric immunizations. As we navigate the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, we continue to maintain VaccineVoices as a resource to highlight efforts to increase confidence in and access to vaccines in communities across the country.

    As health misinformation continues to significantly impact confidence in vaccines, AAMC staff and Health Professions Education Curricular Innovations grant program subgrantees recently participated in the National Forum on Best Practices to Address Health Misinformation in Durham, North Carolina. The purpose of the forum was to foster a learning network of organizations interested in implementing targeted approaches to mitigating the spread and effects of medical misinformation, as well as curating best practices for health care organizations and their partners.
  • Leveraging telehealth to improve health care equity.
    Telehealth became a central tool throughout the COVID-19 public health emergency to facilitate continuous care, maintain access to care for patients, and enhance positive health outcomes. However, significant barriers to telehealth adoption and implementation exist and require approaches predicated on equity.

    We continue to lead efforts and partner with members to identify and address digital equity and inclusion barriers. The AAMC Telehealth Equity Catalyst (TEC) Award Program is in its third cycle and funds member institutions across the country to develop and assess solutions to advance digital equity for underserved and under-resourced communities.The AAMC learning series on Advancing Health Equity Through Telehealth has also relaunched for 2023 and aims to highlight and disseminate best practices in academic medicine that promote and advance health care equity through telehealth. The webinar series recently featured the TEC Awards Symposium, showcasing the impactful work conducted at 10 TEC-funded member institutions addressing health care equity through telehealth resources. We also highlight the role of academic medicine in promoting and advancing health equity through telehealth. New webinars happen regularly throughout the year and are announced on the Advancing Health Equity Through Telehealth: AAMC Learning Series website. Past webinars are available on demand.

    While many academic medical centers are still laying the groundwork for digital health equity strategies, the recent AAMC publication Digital Health Equity: Current Practices and Approaches of Academic Medical Centers sheds light on early successes and common threads across 11 institutions. This document acts as a valuable resource for disseminating best practices and emerging trends.

    In efforts to expand opportunities for telehealth, the AAMC published Resources and Recommendations for School-Based Telehealth Implementation, which includes a brief description of points to consider and links to publicly available resources for further assistance.
  • Broadening access to mental and behavioral health care.
    In advancing wider access to mental and behavioral health care (MH/BH), the AAMC supports the implementation of integrated behavioral health (IBH) models in academic health systems, promotes training and collaborative problem-solving to address maternal mental health care gaps and disparities (especially for communities who have been historically marginalized and under-resourced), and strongly encourages the utilization of technology to augment MH/BH care delivery and expand its accessibility.

    We launched Promoting Access to Behavioral Health Care, an AAMC webpage that serves as a hub of information and resources. It includes AAMC programs and activities related to the advancement of mental health care access, as well as key literature on IBH, maternal mental health, and utilizing technology to improve mental health care access.

    On the behavioral health care webpage, we have linked our free, four-part webinar learning series focused on the implementation of IBH models at academic medical centers. All recordings and accompanying resources are available upon registration.

    In spring 2023, we launched the Inaugural AAMC Mental and Behavioral Health Training Awards by recognizing four AAMC member health systems and teaching hospitals who demonstrated innovative multidisciplinary team training focused on the development of collaborative skills central to IBH care.

    We have continuously engaged with the faculty from each program to disseminate promising practices for shared learning. Representatives from each program presented successes, challenges, lessons learned, and opportunities for growth at Learn Serve Lead 2023: The AAMC Annual Meeting. The 2024 awards cycle will open in March, and we have broadened eligibility to award effective IBH clinical models within our member health systems.

    From fall 2023 to winter 2024, we hosted “Improving Maternal Mental Health Outcomes: Varied Approaches to Closing the Gap of Care,” a webinar learning series focused on innovative ways academic medical centers and nonprofit organizations are addressing maternal mental health disparities and access challenges. The goals of the series were to amplify promising practices, to convene health care providers and experts to share knowledge, and to provide key takeaways for use across academic health systems. Registration for the series is still open, granting on-demand access to all prior recordings and accompanying resources.

    We are currently studying the key role of telehealth and technology in ensuring access to mental and behavioral health care. We will continue pursuing collaborative partnerships that leverage technologies to maximize team-based coordination and transitions of care.

What happens next

  • Building confidence in COVID-19 vaccines and routine pediatric immunizations.
    We will continue to direct our efforts to increase vaccine confidence in COVID-19 vaccines, with a focus on the pediatric COVID-19 vaccine and routine pediatric immunizations and develop videos to highlight the important work of the Health Professions Education Curricular Innovations grant program. We will also amplify strategies and approaches put into action by the Building Trust and Confidence Through Partnerships Grant Program participants and share lessons learned about tailoring communications to meet the unique needs of communities.
  • Leveraging telehealth to improve health care equity.
    To address the technical barriers that may exist with the implementation and adoption of telehealth, the AAMC, in partnership with our member organizations, will develop recommendations for device functionality, usability, and infrastructure to optimize telehealth and enhance high-quality, safe, and patient-centered care. The goal of these recommendations is to promote access to telehealth for all individuals, including historically marginalized populations and those with disabilities and low literacy.
  • Broadening access to mental and behavioral health care.
    We are exploring other avenues to expand our work in MH/BH, particularly focusing on promoting collaborations between institutions on key MH/BH issues. Our work will continue to be informed by data and a diverse array of clinical practice and research perspectives.

    We are also exploring ways to expand our work in maternal mental health. We will continue listening to and learning from maternal mental health experts and patient advocates at academic medical centers and building relationships with national partner organizations to increase access to maternal mental health care nationwide.

Ways to get involved