January 1, 2016 by Katie Brock
“Too often, my patients do not have money to buy their medications, do not have the glasses they need to read the directions on their bottles or don’t have a way to keep themselves warm over the winter. Regardless of what I do in the exam room, these patients are unable to improve their health because of the social factors surrounding their lives,” says Dr. Shipra Bansal, a family physician at North Country HealthCare.
In fact, this is a concern that is being echoed across the country. In a 2011 survey of primary care doctors across the US, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation said that 80% of respondents felt unmet social needs were a large obstacle to healthy outcomes. Interestingly, 80% of respondents also said they didn’t feel equipped to address these social barriers.
As a solution, North Country HealthCare has introduced HealthPartners, a new program designed to help patients overcome these hurdles to health. Any North Country patient can now visit the help desk where a trained volunteer will be available to help connect patients to basic social needs such as food, childcare or wood for heat. “When my patients have adequate heating and improved nutrition, they are less likely to come in sick,” says Dr. Bansal.
The HealthPartners desk is located in the front check-in area of North Country and is staffed 9-5 Monday-Friday. Interns are NAU health professions students. As a collaborator, NAU will be providing fieldwork and capstone credit to participating students.
In addition to using a resource database, students will also be able to help patients fill out any needed paperwork, make appropriate appointments and help direct patients with transportation needs. “The idea is to minimize the difficulties that prevent patients from accessing services by providing a warm hand-off,” says Beth Otterstein, program coordinator.
In addition to providing services to patients, this program also hopes to help health professions students develop skills in identifying and addressing cases of unmet social needs. “Currently, social determinants are glossed over in medical training,” say Dr. Bansal. “This leaves professionals with few skills to deal with real life situations adequately. We hope to improve student education and future care through HealthPartners”.
Some larger cities from Los Angeles to Boston have successfully implemented similar programs in order to improve health. Flagstaff already has an impressive range of health services for its size. With HealthPartners, we are on the cutting edge of finding low-cost health solutions for patients.
For more information about HealthPartners, call 928.522.9400.
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