Keeping people connected to resources necessary to maintain good health — not least of which is other people — is a vital but often neglected factor in modern healthcare, policy experts and scholars said here Tuesday.
Transportation is an “underappreciated” health problem, said Dayna Bowen Matthew, JD, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Center for Health Policy, at a panel discussion hosted by the Brookings Institution on Tuesday.
She noted that interstate highways aren’t always a means of connecting people to each other and to resources: in cities, they create barriers as well.
A grid of superhighways can mean a person living in a city’s southeast quadrant must take two buses and time off from work to reach a well-intentioned “food solution” in the northwest quadrant.
“That community’s not connected,” said Bowen Matthew, who is also a professor at University of Colorado Law School and the Colorado School of Public Health, and author of Just Medicine: A Cure for Racial Inequality in American Health Care.
Those families across town from farmers’ markets and other fresh food resources will rely on the more accessible options instead, which may be fast food.
Tuesday’s discussion focused heavily on the social determinants of health — nonmedical factors that greatly influence a population’s health such as transportation, housing, access to food — but one thing unites these influences: connectivity.
Social Networks are Key
The National Health Service in England has a “district nurse,” an individual responsible for keeping watch over certain neighborhoods, explained, Stuart Butler, PhD, a senior fellow in economics for the Brookings Institution.
Growing up in England, Butler’s mother ran a post office, which was a key source of “intel” for the district nurse on the community residents’ well-being. If Butler’s mother hadn’t seen someone for a few days, the nurse would learn of this and ride her bicycle to the person’s home.
Decades later and an ocean away, Matt Brown, RN, a geriatric nurse navigator at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, learned quickly about the importance of follow-up phone calls to ensure smooth transitions back to the community.
During his first such call as part of a senior-focused transition project, he spoke to a patient who had just returned home after being hospitalized for pneumonia.
In the course of the phone call, the patient reluctantly admitted he had fallen and couldn’t get up off the floor of his home. Brown convinced him to call 911, rather than wait for the patient’s wife to come home. When the ambulance arrived, Brown spoke with the emergency medical technicians to confirm his patient was okay.
To further reduce the risk of injuries, the Sibley Innovation Hub has offered a short training course focused on transitions after certain surgeries, which they are now supplementing with animated patient education videos.
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