Understanding the needs of our patients

OSF HealthCare is partnering with the University of Illinois Chicago and medical students to address barriers to health and wellness in urban communities.

AUG 5, 2021

In recent years, health care organizations have learned that an individual’s wellness is influenced by much more than the traditional care they receive. Everything from access to healthy food and transportation to financial security and environment can impact a person’s well-being.

“Let’s consider a patient with heart disease,” said Earl Power Murphy, innovation coordinator and education specialist for OSF Innovation Labs. “Their physician may recommend diet changes, prescribe medications and schedule follow-up appointments as part of the individual’s treatment plan. But if that patient can’t afford healthier foods or medications and doesn’t have a way to continually visit their doctor, there is a good chance they will get sicker and end up in the hospital.”

But how do health care organizations learn about the needs that affect patients and communities the most? OSF HealthCare is partnering with the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) and University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria (UICOMP) to find an answer.

Mission Partners from OSF HealthCare Little Company of Mary Medical Center, students and faculty from UIC and medical students from the UICOMP Innovation in Rural Global Medicine Program are developing a kind of card game to guide conversations with people around the challenges they face that can negatively impact their health.

This is one of the first projects to be funded by the Community Health Advocacy (CHA) program, an effort between OSF and UIC engaging the proven processes of the UIC Innovation Center to address barriers to health and wellness in urban communities.

Card game

The cards were originally designed as a tool for community health workers to interview residents in their neighborhoods about their greatest needs. They are meant to remove barriers associated with language proficiency and health literacy as well as existing rigid, scripted screening practices.

Mobile app and card gameThe cards include images representing the most common social issues individuals experience on a daily basis. Members of the community are asked to discuss their relation to the topic pictured on the card and sort them in order of significance in their daily lives.

“The cards are a guidepost for difficult conversations that can be standardized across different facilitators and interviewees,” Earl said. “We want to ensure we are having the same discussion with people no matter who they are or who they are being interviewed by. The idea is to collect similarly framed information from each person and reduce the training needs for the interviewer.”

Based on initial tests, the group of students, faculty and Mission Partners will replace pictures on the cards to ensure they are easy to understand and mean the same thing to everyone using them. New features of gameplay are being identified. And finding the best ways to engage individuals in the process is still underway. Next, the team wants to standardize and digitize the card set in a way where data can be stored and aggregated.

“We’ve noticed rich, dynamic conversations between members of the health care team and patients reveal a great deal about the individual,” Earl said. “While that can help on an individualized basis, we also want to be able to identify common needs in our communities so we can develop a greater response.”

Once a digital prototype is produced, the goal is to feed the information collected in the field to the electronic medical record so better insights can be gleaned. OSF can then use the data to better connect people to the resources they need.

A multidisciplinary approach to solving problems

OSF HealthCare recognizes the impact social needs have on the effectiveness of care people receive. That’s why understanding those barriers is paramount. Partnering with disciplines outside of health care is a valuable way to help solve these issues.

“Collaborating with UIC and UICOMP exposes us to an array of diverse approaches to problem solving,” Earl said. “It also expands the possibilities of how to address complex issues and brings in perspectives that inform our current state work as well as the more innovative breakthrough work that we do.”

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