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How Hospitals Can Improve the Health of Whole Communities

Health facilities play a vital role in enhancing the wellbeing of the populations they serve. Some of the strategies hospitals use to achieve this goal include community outreach programs and liaising with local stakeholders such as religious institutions, non-profits, and running health programs that specifically cater to the vulnerable populations. In spite of these efforts, researchers have found that hospitals can still do more to help local communities. Below is some more information on this topic.

To learn more, checkout the infographic below created by Adventist University of Health Sciences’ Online Masters of Healthcare Administration in Strategy and Innovation degree program.

Hospital Community Health Policy

Health Policy Drivers

Before proceeding further, it is wise to explore health policy drivers because they influence the way hospitals deliver services and interact with local communities. With this in mind, 40% of health policies are driven by social and economic factors while 30% of similar policies can be attributed to health behaviors. Environmental concerns are responsible for 10% of health policies while clinical care factors account for 10% of similar policies. Due to this, modern healthcare providers focus on value-based rather than volume-based care. The clamor for universal healthcare coverage has also spurred healthcare providers to develop incentives that local communities can leverage to access medical care.

A good example is ACO-type contracts that reward health facilities for enhancing the wellbeing of their patients. This encourages hospitals to rollout health programs targeting nearby communities. In addition, adoption of payment models that are based on overall wellness, disease prevention, and population-wide per capita costs will expand the role of healthcare institutions substantially. Non-profit hospitals, which enjoy tax-exemption benefits worth up to $24.6 billion annually, cannot shun local communities because they are required by the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) to submit community needs assessments and implementation strategies when filing their annual returns.

Case Studies

Northeast Wisconsin’s Thedacare Health System, which consists of five hospitals and 22 physician clinics, has already launched a Community Health Action Team (CHAT) program in collaboration with local businesses, clergy, non-profit organizations, government agencies, and learning institutions. These efforts have enabled stakeholders to identify health issues affecting local communities and resolve them immediately. At the same time, the 25-member group regularly organizes so-called “plunge” events where stakeholders and interested parties can get feedback from frontline caregivers as well as residents. At the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, physicians and clinicians are encouraged to use both traditional and non-traditional approaches when treating patients. For instance, clinicians are urged to consider upstream factors including nutrition, exposure to drugs and violence, as well as poverty when handling children’s health issues.

In California, the Simi Valley Hospital has rolled out an acute detox program to combat a significant surge in heroin use around the surrounding Los Angeles suburb. What’s more, the hospital has partnered with local law enforcement agencies and schools to prevent drug abuse and provide intervention solutions where necessary. Finally, Brookdale Hospital runs a program called “Live Light Live Right” that is designed to encourage a proactive approach to personal health among children. It is worth noting that this initiative is based on a multidisciplinary and replicable model that is in turn hinged on solid scientific knowledge. Some of this model’s key components include tailored physical fitness programs supervised by qualified trainers, customized care provided to qualifying patients at the hospital’s obesity clinic, well-coordinated patient care and referrals, behavioral and nutritional counseling, and summer programs tailored to suit the health needs of children. Besides this, Brookdale Hospital runs workshops and educational seminars for clinicians and local community organizations as well.

Health Facility Accessibility/Transportation Issues

Accessibility and transportation are some of the key challenges that hospitals face when implementing community outreach programs. In particular, about 3.6 million Americans miss or arrive late for medical appointments annually due to transportation challenges. This is worrying considering that up to 50% of Americans live with at least one chronic condition meaning easy access to medical care is necessary. Without proper care, treatment outcomes deteriorate and the opposite is true.

Tips On Improving Healthcare Facility Accessibility

In spite of the challenges discussed above, hospitals can take certain steps to enhance the success of community-facing health initiatives. For starters, they can partner with independent transportation networks to ensure they reach members of the society such as seniors who may be unable to drive. Luckily, most ITN’s in the US operate round-the-clock meaning they can address any transportation bottlenecks adequately. Another effective approach is using mobile clinics that essentially take physicians to patients’ doorsteps. These clinics can be fitted with the equipment required to provide dental care, primary care, and preventative care services across underprivileged areas — in both urban and rural settings.

Hospitals can also collaborate with congregational networks to coordinate and streamline transportation of patients to medical facilities. In fact, volunteers across the country regularly pick up and drive patients to medical appointments. This is beneficial to people who are unable to honor medical appointments because they do not have a car or cannot drive due to health issues. Yet another effective way that hospitals can leverage to reach patients is partnering with or co-hosting pop-up clinics. These clinics normally rely on volunteer medical professionals who provide essential care including patient screening, basic lab tests, and condition-specific treatment to target communities. Unlike traditional hospitals, pop-up clinics operate for short-periods and charge minimal or no fees. In some cases, they receive donations from members of the public to purchase drugs or expand services to other areas.

Hospital administrators can team up with retail clinics to expand the footprint of community outreach programs. This approach is beneficial because minor health issues are handled at walk-in clinics while fully-fledged medical centers handle emergency cases. Finally, hospitals can partner with student-run health facilities to provide treatment and preventative care services to deserving populations. Take note majority of student-run clinics tend to be affiliated to medical schools.

Conclusion

Hospitals have the responsibility of treating patients who visit their facilities as well as those who cannot afford their services or face transportation challenges. Because of this, hospitals play a key role in the development and wellbeing of vulnerable populations, including seniors. To achieve their objectives, hospitals must work with the local stakeholders such as learning institutions, religious organizations, relevant government agencies/bodies, as well as the affected community groups.

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