In previous blog posts and other shared posts, I have commented on the benefits of moving to an urgent care model to provide high-quality, service-enhanced healthcare for students on college campuses. Continuity of care is a primary reason why.
Larger institutions or those with significant endowments are often able to provide this care as part of a core set of services for students. For smaller and mid-sized schools that live financially on the margins largely because of fluctuating enrollments and the need to have an aggressive discount rate to attract and retain students, deciding to spend valuable budgetary dollars on the campus health center can take a back seat.
However, colleges have moved to a more student-centered model for recruitment and retention purposes. The ability to offer continuity of care to address both the physical and mental health of students is a meaningful differentiator.
The concept of continuity of care in a medical setting is routed in improving the quality of care of the patient. There are many similar definitions for continuity of care, this one is from the Rhode Island Department of Health, “an approach to ensure that the patient-centered care team is cooperatively involved in ongoing healthcare management toward a shared goal of high-quality medical care.”
The pandemic was the first (and hopefully only) time that colleges interacted with students from a medical perspective almost every week. Typically, a college health center may see between 3% and 6% of the entire student population in any one month. For those schools that instituted COVID surveillance testing during the pandemic, the campus medical staff or others involved in the testing saw 100% of the students more than once per week. This provided an opportunity to change the paradigm in terms of how students saw campus healthcare as simply a place to go when they were sick. Surveillance testing required a large-scale outreach effort that included regular communication on all available platforms including smartphone apps and social media. This could serve as a model for how to better connect with students to enhance campus wellness. There are certainly those that would challenge this premise since surveillance testing, like the COVID vaccine, was mandated. Fair point. But from my experience overseeing the work of one of these testing centers the number of students that continued to test even when it was no longer a requirement is indicative of the significant number of students who may be more interested in their health and wellness post-pandemic if we can provide a service model which aligns with their needs.
Colleges have done a very effective job of enhancing mental health services to students largely through strategic partnerships with companies that can provide 24/7 care when needed. In the physical health space access to care is currently often limited to Monday through Friday from 9 to 5, or something similar, which adversely impacts the continuity of care. Increasing the hours of the campus health center to include time during the weekends and during the summer will help close the gap. Access to telehealth is also important. For some schools, the basic level of care provided to students may need to be expanded. These schools compete with nearby urgent care facilities which are open longer hours and provide more services. These facilities provide a valuable service to the broader community. However, if colleges use the urgent care model to operate their campus health center overall student wellness will improve because the continuity of their healthcare will also improve.
So how can colleges enhance the continuity of care and meet the wellness goals of the college while managing the cost and dealing with the national nursing shortage? One option is through partnering with a local or regional medical services provider to operate your campus health center. Schools like Merrimack College, Gettysburg College, and Quinnipiac University are three recent examples of schools that have had success in doing just that. As many schools start to think about their budget for the next school year this is the time they should be exploring this type of strategic partnership.