Volunteers Connect the Patient to the Resources They Need – Not Just Medications

Bogenschutz writerGuest post by University of Minnesota, Rochester senior student, Lada Bogenschutz


Rebecca Onie Transform 2011 SpeakerWhat if doctors could prescribe patients anything they needed, not just medications? With a new tool called Health Leads, this idea becomes reality. In the, presentation entitled Rabble Rousers, Rebecca Onie showcases how this tool allows health professionals to better convenience their clients. Onie argues that if the specific resources may benefit their health, the health care system should satisfy the patients’ needs.
Onie begins her presentation by explaining her investigations within community health care. She describes that in 1965, Dr. Jack Geiger founded a community health center in a low-income area of Mississippi. The malnutrition issue was so steep that Dr. Geiger wrote prescriptions for food at the local supermarket. Even though the office of economic opportunity was not pleased to discover how Geiger used the pharmacy budget, Dr. Geiger argued that if food is going to help their health, he should be able to prescribe it to them. Thirty years later in a Boston hospital, another problem surfaced; Doctors, nurses, and other staff did not have enough time for patients to address their true needs. Doctors told Onie that many uncontrollable factors can affect health. For examplHealth Leads Logoe, what if the patient is living in a car, or there is no food on the kitchen table? Doctors cannot write a prescription for a safe place to sleep, groceries, or many other things. Other professionals appear just as helpless. In fact, conditions were so bad that, for every 20,000 pediatric patients in Boston, there are only two social workers available to help. Sadly, in the current health care system, professionals do not hold the capacity to help with these issues. 

Much of the time, hospitals need resources to satisfy patients’ simple needs. Since there is a shortage of available health professional, we often lack the necessary resources to keep patients healthy. Also, it is not easy to find reliable people to help. Fortunately, there are Health Leads volunteers.  To begin, a health professional identifies any unmet resource need of the patient.  Next, the volunteers connect the patient to the resources they may need. In fact, volunteers make weekly calls to patients, and this practice has 73 percent success rate. Using new strategies, clinics continually screen for unmet needs, and are able to address their specific needs. On top of this, IT specialists have recoded the electronic medical records so that automatic health leads can be prescribed. Through this, patient unmet needs can be addressed as part of regular care.

In today’s medical world, most of the attention is focused on the sickest of patients. The new goal is to go beyond traditional care in order to feature a truly preventative model by approaching all types of patients. The model seeks to improve the overall health of communities. In the end, this project intends to continually transform the way that health care is delivered. Team members have realized that inspiration does not come from success, but failure. By learning from previous mistakes, they slowly make improvements to benefit the system. In the end, they envision screening and referring resources as a normal part of clinical practice.

Watch Rebecca Onie's Presentation at Transform Symposium 2011