By Daniel Frey
Every community is different. The challenges faced by those living in Florida are very different from those in Alaska. Community health is not immune to these nuances, nor is there a one-size-fits-all approach to providing appropriate medical care to people. That said, community health programs bridge these gaps in healthcare and help local public health officials address their community’s specific health needs.
What are Community Health Programs?
Also referred to as community paramedicine or mobile integrated health programs, community health programs are relatively new in the public health field, though the concepts of community-based care and community medicine have been used for centuries. Under cohesive plans, those from all walks of medicine and patient intervention work together to improve the overall wellness of a specific geographic area. Medical care is delivered to patients in their homes with paramedics and EMTs often on the front lines of community health programs.
These programs are driven by metrics. Data collected during patient interactions is constantly monitored to help those overseeing a program understand successes and shortfalls in community health. With healthcare providers at all levels working together, community health programs improve the overall health and quality of life of those who participate through education, treatment, routine screenings or checkups and personal interactions.
Why Implement a Community Health Program?
Community health programs better align existing medical services within a community for overall improved health outcomes. Medical care in rural areas has its challenges – hospitals are often far away and access to medical specialists is limited. While urban areas have higher numbers of medical facilities and care providers, those living in suburbs and cities still face difficulties in receiving health care treatment. With much larger populations and demands for medical care come difficulties in securing appointments or quickly receiving treatment.
Through the all-hands-on-deck approach of community health programs, trained medical professions – from the paramedic to the mental health worker – provide broader medical care access to these populations.
Five Benefits of Community Health Programs
The impact of community health programs goes far beyond providing treatment to patients. True to their name, community health programs impact an entire community. Here are five ways in which these programs change communities:
- Reduced Emergency Room Visits
Despite being meant for emergencies, it’s estimated that about two-thirds of emergency room visits are for non-emergencies. By implementing community health programs, those needing care for non-emergent conditions can receive it in their home, making ER doctors and support personnel more available for true emergency cases. A reduction in ER admissions for non-emergencies also decreases the overall cost of medical expenses to hospitals, urgent care centers and individuals.
- Improved Patient Outcomes
Through routine check-ins, community health workers partner with individuals who are living with chronic diseases or managing long-term conditions to make sure they’re following doctor’s orders – even if it’s something as simple as taking prescribed medications. These healthcare professionals also provide an additional layer of medical evaluation for a patient that affords greater opportunity for improvement of any assessed condition.
- Re-established Trust with the Medical Community
Fueled in part by the immediate availability of information on sources like WebMD.com American’s confidence in medical providers has declined in recent years. Those who are distrustful of doctors and healthcare providers sometimes let conditions go untreated, which can lead to much more serious complications or even death. With the approach community health programs take, interactions with care providers can encourage patients to seek out treatment when necessary.
- A community Medicine Approach to Connection
Sometimes, a person who calls 9-1-1 repeatedly for the same medical emergency is dealing with a different condition altogether. Through the community health model, community health workers are able to visit someone in their home and identify other potential issues, such as hunger, isolation and mental health conditions. What’s more, through this form of community medicine, patients are able to make a real, human connection with another person. Though difficult to measure, these connections can make all the difference in a patient’s overall well-being.
- Metric-Driven Decision Making
Data collected through patient interactions in community health programs is invaluable. As all community health programs are goal-oriented, information gathered through programs can help health officials create an accurate portrait of overall community health and further assess priorities to realign resources to meet the immediate needs of their communities. Community health program data also plays a role in how state and federal governments allocate funding to tackle public health issues, such as obesity, drug abuse and smoking.
Community Health Programs: Improving Communities
Tackling the health issues faced by a specific community is a big job. Through community health programs, these challenges are dealt with on a one-on-one level, ultimately improving a community’s overall health and meeting needs with available services.
Daniel Frey is the co-founder and vice president of business development for FieldMed, the first-ever dedicated community health software platform designed for community health programs nationwide. During his 25 years serving as a paramedic and firefighter, Daniel saw firsthand the drastic need for community health programs and partner software that can go beyond regular patient data to track in-depth information and trends to deliver better, more cost-effective patient care.