Ambulatory care is a key to achieving better population health—not traditional ambulatory (outpatient) care, but rather ambulatory care reimagined. Ambulatory care is so vital that we at Intermountain Healthcare redesigned our entire organization to prioritize it and give it the attention it deserves.
Historically, outpatient care was a point of access that connected many patients with specialty care, where hospitals made their money. Doctors in private practices referred their patients to the hospitals with which they were affiliated, and that arrangement provided the hospitals with a stream of patients on which they relied financially. Today, ambulatory care plays an entirely different role in the context of population health. Healthcare providers are paid a flat fee per person and gain a benefit when people stay healthy. In this new context, ambulatory care is a mechanism to get ahead of health problems and avoid more extensive treatments.
This change then begs a question: How do healthcare providers support their essential services if ambulatory care is working to reduce the stream of patients to hospitals? The answer has three parts, and it is the reason we redesigned Intermountain Healthcare and began to roll out a series of new products and initiatives to implement that redesign.