Connecting Individual Health to the Community

August 6, 2019
Tracey Walker

A new framework for understanding individual healthcare needs.

New research provides a framework for better understanding how, in the course of everyday activities, healthcare organizations can better serve the communities they serve.

While many healthcare organizations have invested heavily in improving patients’ experiences, they are now struggling with making the connection between those efforts and community health, according to the study published in the Journal of Business Research.

“This paper shows that two related concepts, intra-alignment (getting things in line within the provider-patient relationship) and inter-alignment (connecting the patient and her network to additional resources that address social determinants of health),” says lead author Andrew S. Gallan, PhD, assistant professor in the marketing department in the Florida Atlantic University College of Business in Boca Raton, Florida.

“The main thrust of the study was to make a connection between individual healthcare encounters and community well-being, to help health care organizations understand that micro-level encounters can be leveraged to improve the health and well-being of the communities they serve,” Gallan says.

Galan and colleagues introduced the concept of Patient Ecosystem Management, which connects individual patient experiences to community well-being.

“Simply put, this concept provides a framework for healthcare organizations to follow to communicate with patients and their caregivers in such a way as to uncover any issues that function as obstacles to improved health and well-being; and, then, urges healthcare professionals to connect patients to resources that will expand the patient’s capabilities to reach their health goals,” says Gallan.

The study provides a table of 14 different examples of organizations that have taken steps to align patients with resources that can address specific issues beyond the walls of a hospital. For instance, community navigators can help patients navigate issues outside of healthcare encounters and reduce unnecessary utilization of healthcare services.

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“Some healthcare organizations are partnering with legal services to help their patients address issues in their living situation that can create unhealthy environments (e.g., mold causes exacerbations of asthma),” Gallan says.

Finally, technology can play a significant role in providing patients with 24/7/365 access to helpful services that can aid in decision making, guide patients in healthy lifestyle changes, and answer a variety of health-related questions.

“Healthcare organizations don’t have to go it alone; nor do they have to do more with the same or less,” Gallan says. “They can partner with existing organizations that are designed to help people in ways that improve the health and well-being of communities.”

“This study shows that investments made by healthcare organizations in better understanding their patients’ lived situations can pay significant dividends beyond reduced utilization, increased compliance, or improved health,” he says. “Once a patient is connected to additional community resources, they may find that their personal ecosystem is expanded, and have more fulfilling social, emotional, physical, and other lives.”

Gallan envisions increased collaboration beyond clinical services by constructing as-needed networks of entities that come together to help individuals address obstacles to improved health and well-being.

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