Working with Communities to Improve Health

The following excerpt comes from an article that first appeared May 1, 2017, on the NIMHD website under NIMHD Community Health and Population Sciences Feature Articles


Improving health is not always a matter of prescribing the right medicine. Sometimes the environment needs to change. Many Americans live in neighborhoods that lack safe walking routes, grocery stores, and health facilities.

“Are there places for kids to play? Are there good farmers markets or grocery stores?” asks Irene Dankwa-Mullan, M.D., M.P.H., formerly of NIMHD and now deputy chief health officer of IBM Watson Health. Such features help people in a neighborhood live healthier lives. Along with NIMHD director Eliseo Pérez-Stable, Dr. Dankwa-Mullan wrote an editorial in the April 2016 issue of the American Journal of Public Health, “Addressing Health Disparities Is a Place-Based Issue.”

Efforts to address these problems in particular communities are called “place-based interventions.” Ideally, these interventions come from a collaboration among community members, businesses, and other stakeholders, working together with police, urban planners, and other groups to improve their neighborhood. Community members are involved to make sure the interventions are based on their values.

Examples of place-based interventions include an effort to bring a farmers market to a neighborhood without a grocery store or promoting public safety so that residents feel safe walking on the street. Walking is a simple way to improve health, but there can be many barriers to walking, a fact highlighted in the Surgeon General’s Call to Action on walking.

Place-based interventions have been used successfully in rural areas, disadvantaged urban neighborhoods, and Indian reservations. People who live in such places tend to have particular health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease, and working to change the place-based conditions may help address health disparities.

Communities are complicated, and figuring out the best way to improve the health of all residents in a particular place can be a daunting task. “Part of the issue is that we do not have a best practices model for place-based interventions,” Dr. Dankwa-Mullan says. The editorial in the American Journal of Public Health was part of a new series on best practices for place-based interventions. Through this series, public health professionals will be able to learn how to develop place-based interventions.

One key to success of place-based interventions is involving the community. This is similar to community-based participatory research, a way of doing research in which the community sets priorities, ensuring that communities that are asked to participate in research get answers to the questions that are most important to them.

Read the full article.

 

Talking about Health Equity

Recently, the Health Policy Research Consortium create a YouTube Series, Conversations on Health Equity,  exploring health equity with leading experts. Available videos include

 

Examining Provider Bias In Health Care Through Implicit Bias Rounds

The following comes from the July 17, 2017, article by Vidya Viswanathan, Matthew Seigerman, Edward Manning, and Jaya Aysola on the Health Affairs Blog.


In 2015, a 27-year-old patient presented to our primary care resident practice in intractable pain, having been recently discharged from the hospital following surgery for a complex shoulder fracture. The orthopedic surgeons evaluated him the day before and scheduled a second surgery but did not adequately treat his pain. The inpatient nurse had told him he would be discharged with the oral pain regimen he had been taking for the past day or so within the hospital. But upon discharge, he found himself without those prescriptions and came to our primary care practice in severe pain. When we reviewed his inpatient record to determine the reason for this discrepancy, the attending physician discovered the phrase “drug-seeking” in the record. The rationale for this statement was not provided, nor the context. When questioned by his new primary care provider about this, the patient was shocked. He tried to recollect what he may have said to result in that assumption. He had no prior history of documented substance or prescription drug abuse.

The patient in question was a young black male and the victim of a drive-by shooting by a stranger. He had been sitting in the passenger seat of a stationary car when it happened. Standard practice in this type of case involves long-acting oral opioid medication, with gradual adjustments of a medication regimen tailored to meet the needs of the patient. But the patient didn’t receive the standard of care, and we naturally wondered why. The answer may be implicit bias.

The literature suggests that he would be more likely to be perceived as drug-seeking when requesting pain relief, compared to his white counterpart. Bias is particularly well-documented in pain management, with black children and adults receiving less adequate pain treatment than their white counterparts in the emergency department for the same presenting condition, even when accounting for insurance status and severity of pain. Longitudinal, national data on 156,729 pain-related emergency department visits found that even among those presenting with the same condition, non-Hispanic white patients were significantly more likely to receive an opioid than all other ethnic minorities examined. Researchers using an instrument to assess implicit bias in more than 2,500 physicians found a significant implicit preference for white Americans relative to black Americans among physicians of all racial/ethnic groups except for black physicians. Another study found that physicians were twice as likely to underestimate pain in black patients compared with all other ethnicities combined and also more likely to overestimate pain in nonblack patients than in black patients.

To address the case of our patient who was inadequately treated for pain based on apparently false assumptions—and other patients who have experienced a different standard of care due to implicit bias—we believe there needs to be formal discussion of this source of clinical errors at institutions. We propose the initiation of a new kind of case conference—“Implicit Bias Rounds”—to specifically identify and discuss these cases.

How Does Bias Occur?

We conceptualized Implicit Bias Rounds based on theories on why disparities in care occur despite well-intentioned providers and despite the recognition of the importance of cognitive error as a source of diagnostic error. Providers, when faced with the need to make complicated judgments quickly and with insufficient and imperfect information, may rely on assumptions associated with a patient’s social categories to fill in the gaps with information that may be relevant to diagnosis and treatment. Physicians are at risk for relying on stereotypes or assumptions for efficient decision making, even when attempting to be objective. In addition to the assumptions providers may make about patients that are dissimilar to them, they may also unconsciously favor patients whose identity they relate to. Such affinity bias may cause a provider not to consider the possibility of a drug problem in an adolescent that appears similar to him, despite a positive urine screen for marijuana. Current efforts in medicine to combat bias may also serve to perpetuate them: Physician-anthropologist Arthur Kleinman states that one problem with traditional cultural competency training is that it may erroneously characterize culture as static and cultural understanding as a technical skill.

It is not enough to merely consider potential sources of provider bias without considering proposed strategies to mitigate that bias. Evidence tells us that simply adjusting the explicit medical curricula is not enough to change implicit bias; increasing positive role modeling for medical trainees is more effective. Strategies proposed to combat implicit bias include consciously thinking of the patient’s perspective and approaching each provider-patient interaction as a shared negotiation between worldviews. Focusing on specific and unique details about an individual, instead of his or her social category, serves to combat biases by diminishing stereotyping and promoting empathy building. Clinicians who are trained to consider the unique perspectives and experiences of their patients are more likely to show empathy toward them, the study suggests. Priming physicians with information about the relevance or irrelevance of sociocultural factors in medical care can combat cognitive errors that stem from stereotyping. A regular intervention such as Implicit Bias Rounds would serve to implement these strategies on a consistent basis.

Read the full article.

Racial Differences in Outcomes Demand Greater Vigilance

The following excerpt comes from the July 17, 2017, article by Ada Stewart on the Leader Voices Blog: A Forum for AAFP Leaders and Members.


My father didn’t have a documented history of heart disease. He was never diagnosed as having hypertension, diabetes or other conditions that would have alerted us to the fact that he was at risk. So it was a shock — and one of the events that led me to the field of medicine — when he died of a massive heart attack at age 59.  

Unfortunately, his story isn’t unique.

It’s well documented that blacks are more likely than whites to suffer from an array of health conditions, including asthma, diabetes, hypertension and lung cancer. However, a study published this month in Circulation makes it clear just how different the outcomes are for black men compared with those for their white peers. Black men ages 45-64 (like my father) are twice as likely to die from a first heart attack.

My father lacked health insurance, so he rarely sought care and missed opportunities for discussions about risk factors and prevention, blood pressure and cholesterol screenings, as well as potentially life-saving treatment that may have resulted from such visits.

It’s a familiar story. One of the study’s authors said in an interview that “racial and institutional discrimination” and a lack of access to care are major factors in the wide difference in outcomes. In fact, researchers found that black patients actually have a lower risk for nonfatal cardiac events, but that lack of access to care means that too many black patients aren’t properly diagnosed with a heart condition until it’s too late.

Researchers said blacks have a higher burden of unfavorable social determinants of health,  and access to care is only one such factor. Others include limited access to nutritious food, social stressors, poor neighborhood safety and lack of recreational facilities.

Education and health literacy also are social determinants of health, and researchers said lack of patient awareness is a potential issue that should be considered regarding this issue. Although most patients likely would recognize that severe chest pain is a symptom of a heart attack, they might be less likely to recognize milder symptoms that could be cause to seek care.

So what can family physicians do? We can make sure our at-risk patients who do seek our care understand the symptoms of a heart attack and know when they need to seek treatment. We also can talk to them about exercise, nutrition, tobacco cessation and other prevention efforts, as well as the importance of follow-up when they are being treated for conditions such as hypertension and diabetes.

Read the full article.

The Messenger Also Matters: Value-Based Payment Can Support Outreach To Vulnerable Populations

 

The following excerpt comes from the July 10, 2017 article by Ruth C. Browne, Marilyn Fraser, Judith Killen, and Laura Tollen on the Health Affairs Blog.


With the proliferation of value-based payment initiatives and implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) coverage expansions, states have had many opportunities in recent years to improve the health of vulnerable populations through health promotion, prevention, and care coordination. We believe value-based payment models can and must support accountable health care delivery systems in partnering with community-based “messengers” to engage vulnerable individuals in health education and promotion. We explore one such messenger program, ACCESS, a Brooklyn-based project of the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health, which trains barbers and hairstylists to help formerly incarcerated men learn to recognize and act upon their own health risk factors. Value-based payment offers an opportunity to support programs such as this.

“Messengers,” as we define them here, are community health workers—those who serve “as a liaison/link/intermediary between health/social services and the community to facilitate access to services and improve the quality and cultural competence of service delivery.” Unfortunately, there are few dedicated funding streams available to support the messenger role. Fee-for-service payment arrangements do not reimburse these activities. Value-based payment, on the other hand, not only highlights the need to support messengers but also potentially provides funding to do so.

Value-based payment programs hold the health care delivery system accountable for meeting health goals for entire enrolled or attributed populations, which requires more than just providing better medical care. Shortfalls in medical care are responsible for only an estimated 10 percent of early mortality in the United States, while individual health-related behavior is responsible for 40 percent. Even the finest delivery system can only expect to see a modest improvement in the health of its community if it focuses only on the very thing it has been designed to do—providing medical care to sick people. Value-based payment requires delivery systems to redefine nothing less than their product, place, and providers. The product must be health; the place must be where people live and work; and the providers must include credible, community-based messengers.

Credible messengers can bring to delivery systems important knowledge about social determinants of health that impact individuals’ ability to access and act upon health-related information. We focus here on one social determinant—incarceration. Individuals formerly incarcerated have become eligible for Medicaid in large numbers and, as such, participate in a variety of value-based payment initiatives. New York State, where the ACCESS program has been implemented, is moving aggressively toward value-based payment in Medicaid. In 2015, the state announced its intention to shift 80–90 percent of its Medicaid managed care provider payments from fee-for-service to value-based arrangements by 2020.

In the United States, nearly 700,000 state and federal prisoners are released annually, and more than 11 million cycle through local jails. Incarcerated individuals have poorer physical health status than the rest of the population, a high burden of mental health and substance abuse disorders, and, once they are released, are more likely than the general population to be uninsured. However, under the ACA, more than one-third of inmates released annually from state and federal prisons are estimated to be Medicaid-eligible. If this pattern holds true for those released from local jails as well, there are potentially millions of formerly incarcerated individuals newly eligible for Medicaid—and for the value-based payment initiatives that may come with it.

The burdens of incarceration are distributed unevenly. Sixty percent of New York State prisoners come from New York City, and two-thirds of the 28,000 people released each year return to the city. Some Brooklyn neighborhoods have especially high incidences of incarceration and concomitant prison spending, earning them the dubious honorific of “million-dollar blocks,” even though they are among the poorest neighborhoods in Brooklyn.

At the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health (AAIUH), we found a striking overlap between Brooklyn’s million-dollar blocks and areas where we were already engaged in health-promotion activities. Founded in 1992, the AAIUH is an independent, nonprofit organization that collaborates with community members to incubate, test, and replicate neighborhood-based interventions to improve health conditions disproportionately affecting minorities. Arthur Ashe, a world-renowned African American tennis champion and social justice advocate, founded the AAIUH in partnership with the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center. Using community-based participatory research, the AAIUH navigates disparate worlds—the institutional universe of academic medicine and day-to-day life in multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic neighborhoods.

Among other projects, the AAIUH has a long history of training barbers and hairstylists to deliver health education related to breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and diabetes in women, and HIV/AIDS and prostate cancer in men. When we began the ACCESS program in 2009, exploratory work revealed that more than 80 percent of barbers working in our ongoing projects had themselves spent at least one night in jail. This made them particularly credible messengers for our priority population of formerly incarcerated men and the supportive women in their lives. Guided by input from a community-based advisory board, we conducted focus groups of barbers, stylists, and customers to determine the best way to discuss incarceration and health, and which health issues would be most important to the community. Based on that input, the program emphasized cardiovascular disease, stress, and HIV/AIDS. We developed a health curriculum to increase awareness of these conditions, emphasizing prevention and the importance of “knowing your numbers”—that is, understanding health indicators such as blood pressure and cholesterol levels. The curriculum included a resource guide for community health and social services related to the priority conditions and services for the re-entry population.

We trained barbers and stylists to deliver the curriculum in six establishments in the Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights areas of Brooklyn, emphasizing that health messages must be delivered in a way that could be useful to any member of the community who might know someone who had been incarcerated, instead of focusing solely on the formerly incarcerated themselves. In addition to the health messages and the resource guide, ACCESS included an HIV-focused health education video played several times a day in participating salons and barbershops and 12 AAIUH-sponsored Health Resource Days held at these establishments.

The project evaluation consisted of pre- and post-intervention surveys of patrons. The pre-intervention survey assessed patrons’ familiarity with risk factors, prevention, and resources related to the priority conditions. For example, patrons were asked multiple-choice questions such as: “What are some of the warning signs of a heart attack? What is a normal blood pressure reading?” The post-intervention survey of the same individuals sought to determine whether they had been exposed to the intervention and whether their knowledge regarding any of the previously asked questions had changed. Survey respondents’ ability to identify ways to assess their cardiovascular disease risk increased from 44 percent to 62 percent, and understanding that condom use can decrease the spread of HIV increased from 77 percent to 88 percent.

Read the full article.

The Health Care System Is Leaving The Southern Black Belt Behind

The following excerpt comes from an article by Anna Maria Barry-Jester on FiveThrityEight.

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Sitting outside of a Starbucks on the corner of a strip mall in Tuscaloosa late last year, Dr. Remona Peterson described her hometown of Thomaston, Alabama, population 400. “Everybody loves our grocery store. That’s, like, our pride,” she said with a laugh. She was in Tuscaloosa, Alabama’s fifth-largest city, finishing her medical residency when Dave’s Market opened in an old Thomaston high school gym last year. Peterson said it became the only place to buy groceries for miles in any direction, and it was one of the few changes to the town she can remember from the last three decades.

Peterson wants to be a part of positive change in the region, which is why she’s back after a circuitous journey through medical school. She was valedictorian of her 29-person high school class and graduated summa cum laude from Tuskegee University, where she earned a full scholarship and the university’s distinguished scholars award. She went on to medical school and got the residency in Tuscaloosa. It was her first choice; she felt that the University of Alabama would best prepare her for her long-term goal: to add her name to the short list of African-American doctors working in the Alabama Black Belt who were also born and raised there.

The Black Belt refers to a stretch of land in the U.S. South whose fertile soil drew white colonists and plantation owners centuries ago. After hundreds of thousands of people were forced there as slaves, the region became the center of rural, black America. Today, the name describes predominantly rural counties where a large share of the population is African-American. The area is one of the most persistently poor in the country, and residents have some of the most limited economic prospects. Life expectancies are among the shortest in the U.S., and poor health outcomes are common. This article is part of a series examining these disparities.

The disparities partly stem from a lack of access to care — but access is a complicated notion. Early in the Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the GOP homed in on the idea, saying the party wanted to guarantee “access to health care” for everyone. But the ongoing national policy conversation has hinged on insurance coverage, the main issue tackled by both the Affordable Care Act and the current GOP efforts. Yes, measuring who’s insured illuminates one way by which people have access to the health care system, but it’s only part of the picture. The term “access to health care” has a standardized federal definition that’s much broader: “the timely use of personal health services to achieve the best health outcomes.” And there’s a list of metrics to measure it. Researchers consider structural barriers, such as distance to a hospital or how many health professionals work in an area, to be important. As are metrics that gauge whether a patient can find a health care provider that she trusts and can communicate with well enough to get the services she needs.

Southern states have health outcomes that are among the worst in the U.S. overall, and they have some of the largest in-state health disparities, according to County Health Rankings, an annual report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin. Transportation options are limited, and health care worker shortages are routine. In Alabama, Black Belt counties have fewer primary care physicians, dentists and mental health providers per resident than other counties. They also tend to have the highest rates of uninsured people. Poverty rates, which are associated with limited access to care, are also high.

Read the full article.

Drop In Sudden Cardiac Arrests Linked To Obamacare

The following excerpt comes from an article by Jenny Gold on Kaiser Health News.

If 22 million Americans lose their health care coverage by 2026 under the GOP Senate’s plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, how many people could die? The question is at the heart of the debate raging in Washington, D.C., but has been difficult to answer.

“Show me the data on lives saved by Obamacare, please,” conservative political scientist Charles Murray requested in a recent tweet.

A pilot study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association may provide an answer: Researchers found that the rate of sudden cardiac arrest outside of a hospital dropped by 17 percent among people ages 45-64 in Multnomah County, Ore., after the Affordable Care Act expanded insurance coverage.

The study analyzed sudden cardiac arrest data from the emergency medical system in 2011-12 before the ACA, and compared the data from 2014-15 after insurance coverage expanded. During that time, the percentage of people in Multnomah County with Medicaid coverage nearly doubled, from 7 percent to 13.5 percent.

Cardiac arrest can serve as an early indicator to show how an increase in health insurance coverage under the ACA might affect mortality.

Each year, about 350,000 people in the United States have a sudden cardiac arrest, in which the heart unexpectedly stops beating. It is one of the most deadly types of heart attacks — only 1 in 10 patients survive it. “It speaks to the importance of predicting and preventing [cardiac arrest] because once it happens, it’s much too late,” said Dr. Sumeet Chugh, medical director of the Heart Rhythm Center of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in California and one of the authors of the study.

The good news is that nearly half of patients experience warning symptoms, offering an opportunity for intervention, said Chugh. Cholesterol and blood pressure medication, diet and exercise, and surgical interventions can all help stave off sudden cardiac arrest. But patients without health insurance might ignore their symptoms and avoid seeing a doctor.

“Imagine that you’re someone with a warning symptom. If you had insurance or access to health care that was relatively easy, you might be more inclined to see a provider. If you didn’t, you might let it go for a while,” said Chugh.

Chugh cautions that the study population was small and did not examine other factors that could have led to a decline in cardiac arrests. Still, it is consistent with other studies that found a link between Medicaid expansion and a decline in mortality. Chugh and fellow author Eric Stecker of the Oregon Health & Science University plan follow-up studies to narrow in on the causes in Multnomah County.

Read the full article.

Useful Resource: Healthy People 2020 Health Disparities Widget

Recently, the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) and the Office of Minority Health (OMH) announced the release of the Healthy People 2020 Health Disparities Widget. The tool provides an easy way to find health disparities data related to Healthy People 2020 objectives for the Leading Health Indicators (LHI). Users can search by disparity type (e.g. disability, education, income, location, race, ethnicity, and sex) and the LHIs.

Learn more about the Health Disparities Widget.

Health Insurance Coverage, Doctor-Patient Relationship, and Health Care Utilization

A recent study published in Preventive Medicine Reports explored the effect of health insurance coverage and doctor-patient relationships on the likelihood that an individual would receive diagnostic tests for diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Using data collected from 230 participants in the Labor Market Health Care Survey (LMHCS), the study examined three questions:

  • How does health insurance affect the likelihood of having a regular health care provider?
  • How does health insurance coverage affect the likelihood of receiving tests for cardiovascular disease?
  • To what extent does having a regular health care health care provider mediate the effect of health insurance coverage on receiving the diagnostic tests?

The research team, led by Dr. Kenneth Hudson, the LMHCS was a multi-wave longitudinal study of adults 18 and older living in nine high-poverty census tracts in a county of approximately 400,000 residents. For the study, high poverty census tracts were defined as those where 50% of the households have incomes below the poverty threshold. Interview participants were selected through a two-stage random sample. To be included in the study, an individual had to be over 18 years of age. While data collection began in 2006, about 90% of the data in this study were collected since 2013. The research team interviewed participants every 2 to 3 years when they could be located. During interviews, participants provide information on their household composition, employment history, health status, health care utilization and income. Of the 230 participants in the study, about half were under the age of 40.

Analysis of the data included 3 dependent variables:

  • Whether or not participants have health insurance from any source
  • Whether or not the participant has a regular health care provider and knows their doctor’s name
  • Whether or not participants receive diagnostic tests for blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar levels.

In terms of health insurance coverage, only 12% of participants reported having coverage through an employer, 7% purchased coverage from the private market, and 5% had coverage through a family member. About ⅓ of participants had coverage through Medicare or Medicaid. The final ⅓ did not have any type of insurance coverage.

In relation to health care utilization, 45% of participants reported not having a regular provider. 17% reported having a regular health care provider but did not know their doctor’s name. The remaining 38% had a regular provider and could report the doctor’s name. Around half of the participants reported having cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure tests in the last 2 years.

Through the analysis, Dr. Hudson and his team found that participants with health insurance coverage were more likely to have had recent tests for diabetes and cardiovascular disease than those without coverage. However, they also found that having a regular health care provider mediates the effects of insurance coverage, especially when the participant could report the name of their doctor.

Read the full study.

Defining Health Equity

In May 2017, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released a report titled “What is Health Equity? And What Difference Does a Definition Make?” with the purpose “stimulate discussion and promote greater consensus about the meaning of health equity and the implications for action within the Culture of Health Action Framework.” In doing so, the authors identify crucial elements to guide effective action. The way we define health equity is important as it reveals the values and beliefs that are used to make decisions, justify actions, and promote policies.

The document provides a general definition of health equity:

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. This requires removing obstacles to health such as poverty, discrimination, and their consequences, including powerlessness and lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments, and health care.

In pointing out the importance of measurement for accountability, the authors added the following:

For the purposes of measurement, health equity means reducing and ultimately eliminating disparities in health and its determinants that adversely affect excluded or marginalized groups.

With those definitions as a starting point the report offers :

  • Series of definitions for different audiences
  • Explanation of key concepts
  • Criteria for defining health equity
  • Discussion of steps to advancing health equity
  • Guiding principles
  • Glossary of terms often arising in health equity discussions

See a summary of the report.

Download the report, Braveman P, Arkin E, Orleans T, Proctor D, and Plough A. What Is Health Equity? And What Difference Does a Definition Make? Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2017.

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