What is risk assessment in primary care?

Reviewing a patient’s medical data and asking pointed questions during wellness visits can help the primary care physician conduct a meaningful risk assessment for that patient. As the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) notes, “Obtaining periodic health assessments on patients provides an opportunity for primary care teams to get a snapshot on the health status and the health risks of empanelled patients.”

Primary care physician who manage their patient’s medical information using electronic health records (EHRs) have the ability to review notes before the visit and then input relevant data during the visit that can impact the risk assessment for that particular patient. Identified risks could include smoking, drinking, adverse family medical history, or socioeconomic factors, as well as “hearing loss, increased fall risk, depression, or previously unidentified chronic pain.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has published A Framework for Patient-Centered Health Risk Assessments, focused on “Providing Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Services to Medicare Beneficiaries.” Although primarily discussing patient-centered health risk assessments (HRAs) and their impact on Medicare patients, the framework provides insight into risk assessment at the primary care level.

The CDC points out that “Chronic illnesses account for an estimated 83% of total U.S. health spending and virtually all (99%) of Medicare’s expenditures are for beneficiaries with at least one chronic condition.” Risk assessments are particularly important for this population. One of the CDC’s goals in developing recommendations as part of their framework include improving “health outcomes by identifying patients’ modifiable health risks and providing follow-up behavior change interventions that are implemented over time.”

Recommendations for the patient-centered risk assessments in the primary care practice include:

  • Balance comprehensiveness of assessment with provider and patient burden
  • Build upon high priority questions
  • Use person-centered and culturally appropriate processes
  • Incorporate information into secure electronic health records
  • Conduct research to quantify long term outcomes

Elation Health’s Risk Assessment feature leverages patient chart data and an industry standardized measure to empower providers with a snapshot of patient’s health risk at the point of care.