I recently had the pleasure of attending the Healthcare Advocate Summit (HAS), an event that brings together a wide variety of professionals from across the country who are involved in patient advocacy.

Advocates who work directly with patients and medical staff can provide critical insights on improving the patient journey. The summit was designed to offer these advocates an opportunity for learning best practice standards—and to give them a voice in creating solutions to treatment access barriers.

While HAS is in its third year (and drew over 700 people), this was my first time attending. I was immediately struck by how the conference brought together so many different roles—not only patient advocates and navigators, but also billers, pharmacists, nurses, foundation staff, and even pharmaceutical companies. It was thrilling to see these roles represented, because helping patients is truly a group effort that depends on the investment of all parties. 

All the sessions were phenomenal, but the most gratifying part was just getting to talk to various attendees and hear from panelists about the problems patients are facing, and how they’re being addressed. It was a wonderful opportunity for everyone to come together, share their experiences, and bounce ideas off one another. Here are my top takeaways:

1. Unknowns Abound Regarding the Inflation Reduction Act

There are so many things we don’t know about how the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will affect patients and other stakeholders. Even the largest providers of financial assistance aren’t sure how this law will change the way they operate. It’s unclear how the IRA will affect the assistance offered to patients by charitable foundations, for example. This means that, more than ever, financial navigators need to be available to patients, so that they can help them understand their benefits and seek appropriate assistance. 

Another key consideration is that while certain provisions of the IRA stand to benefit patient affordability, most patients aren’t aware of these benefits. Financial navigators must be the bridge of knowledge to help patients understand how the provisions of the law will impact them.

2. We Are Doing Good Work—But We Need to Do More

It was heartening to see so many like-minded navigators and other advocates gathered from across the nation. But at a conference with 700-plus attendees, a central theme was that there’s still so much more to be done. Many patients are falling through the cracks because there just aren’t enough staff to help them when they need it most.

I led a roundtable discussion called “Closing the Loop on Financial Assistance for Patients” that was attended by several independent navigators. They described working (often pro bono) with patients who come to them out of desperation because they’ve gone through five or six people at their provider organization and no one is available to help them find assistance. Health systems aren’t able to help everybody who needs it because they simply don’t have enough staff.

Our Co-Founder and CEO Srulik Dvorsky also participated on a panel called “Navigating the Enrollment to Renewal Season” that I attended. One of the panelists said financial navigation at her organization is a one-person job; she described struggling to translate her patient-centric view into a Return on Investment (ROI) that would appeal to executive leadership. 

Financial navigation has a lot of ties to social work, and navigators’ first priority is getting patients the help they need, when they need it. However, advocates and navigators need to be able to prove ROI and build the business case in order to secure the resources they need. We have a unique opportunity at TailorMed to help healthcare organizations build the business case for financial navigation.

3. Tech Solutions Are a Top Interest

Talking with fellow conference attendees, it became abundantly clear that technology solutions are a top interest among like-minded advocates and navigators who want to streamline financial assistance processes and reach more patients in need—and with good reason.

So many teams are still operating with foot-deep file cabinets. They’re trying to track enrollment and re-enrollment with spreadsheets. Many want to help more patients, but they’re only working with reactive referrals versus proactive processes such as identifying patients on the front end before they face a bill they can’t afford. 

Again, the difficulty lies in convincing leadership. Building a case for implementing technology seems to be one of the biggest barriers advocates and navigators face upon realizing how much they could benefit from these solutions.

4. Financial Navigation Must Be Streamlined

The workflows of financial navigation within healthcare organizations are often disjointed, negatively impacting patient care and the bottom line. From patient interactions to posting payment to dispensing drugs, streamlining financial assistance processes is crucial to a navigation program’s success.

The management of copay assistance claims is one area where processes are particularly problematic—which is why I made it the focus of my roundtable discussion. So many different skill sets and “roles” are attempting to do the work of connecting patients with assistance; the list includes nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy techs, and medication assistance coordinators in addition to patient advocates and financial navigators. 

Within many organizations, there’s a lack of both understanding and centralization, with different departments handling individual aspects of the process. There’s often a lack of communication between these teams, which creates frustrating bottlenecks for the organization and the patient.

Streamlining financial navigation processes requires collaboration across teams, from navigators to billing departments to pharmacy staff. Technology platforms provide a centralized space for this collaboration, enabling organizations to coordinate efforts and optimize efficiency.

Many People, One Goal

My biggest takeaway from the Healthcare Advocate Summit? At the end of the day, we are all one team that is united in our desire to help patients in need. 

Of course affordability impacts healthcare organizations, but patients shoulder the heaviest share of this burden. It’s up to all of us across the healthcare network to optimize financial assistance and facilitate a coordinated effort to help patients overcome barriers to care.