Partnership aims to make state healthier

 

DOVER –– Although its a lofty goal, the Delaware Center for Health Innovation is working hand in hand with the Delaware Health Care Commission as part of public-private partnership to move Delaware from the 32nd healthiest state in the nation to most healthy.

Two-thirds of Delawareans are considered to be at an unhealthy weight (overweight or obese), a contributing factor in both heart disease and diabetes making Delaware come in 15th overall in diabetes rates.

“The numbers show us that Delaware’s health status is among some of the worst in the nation,” said Jolane Miller Armbrister, a member of the DCHI board. “But we are spending more money on health care per person than any other state –– 25 percent more than the national average.”

“We are on an unsustainable path right now and we need to work together to correct it,” said Matt Swanson, chair of the DCHI board of directors at Monday night’s forum.

DCHI and the Health Care Commission have taken to the streets to alert Delawareans of the public health crisis and the need for improvement through a series of public forums held across the state.

Six panelists gathered Monday night at the Modern Maturity Center in Dover to discuss not only the problems with health care in Delaware but also solutions.

“Health care has gotten very complicated and confusing. You know that and I know that,” said Mr. Swanson. “Things as we know them need to change.”

Choose Health Delaware, the movement behind DCHI’s plans, has the primary goal of bringing together doctors, medical providers, hospitals, health care systems, community organizations, local leaders, patients and residents to improve overall health of the state.

Although the changes DCHI and the Health Care Commission propose at their meetings and on their website seem like overarching changes to the system, the meeting emphasized that health starts with the individual.

“It starts with taking ownership of your own health,” said Mary Kate Mouser, a DCHI patient and consumer advocate. “You need to make the right choices and have the information you need to navigate the health care system for yourself and dependent family members. If you don’t know what an HMO is, it’s time to research it.”

For individuals to get healthy and informed, it takes the support of not only resources like doctor’s offices and the internet, but the community as a whole.

“We asked ourselves, ‘what is the role of communities and how can our communities get healthier?’” Mr. Swanson said. “We need to get community leaders together and give them the tools and framework they need to better participate in the overall health care system. We’ve never gotten community organizations together in the same place at the same time to exclusively discuss health.”

He proposed healthy improvements to neighborhoods ranging from safer public parks to more readily available fresh, healthy foods at corner stores but each community’s needs will be different, so it’s important that priorities don’t come as a blanketed list from the state.

DCHI is currently working with three communities across the state as part of its Healthy Neighborhoods initiative to get these areas off the ground in identifying their problems and developing solutions.

“This program is going to get off the ground this year and it’s going to be large and complex, but it will give us good direction moving forward,” Mr. Swanson said. “We’re excited about the enthusiasm and what it’s going to bring to the health care system.”

After the individuals and their communities come the local physicians and other health care providers.

“He or she should be listening to you and you should be listening to them,” Ms. Mouser said of patients and their health care providers. “It’s all about that back and forth conversation that makes the relationship a true partnership.”

Need care outside the typical Monday to Friday, 9 and 5 business hours? DCHI foresees that obstacle falling by the wayside in coming years as physicians are encouraged to extend office hours and make themselves more available to patients.

Transfers from general practitioners to specialists will be made more streamlined as medical records become stored in an electronic network visible to physicians while keeping cyber security in mind.

“These are the kinds of changes we are imagining and the kind of changes we believe are possible in Delaware,” Ms. Mouser said. “Bottom line is we need to make health care easier, access easier with strategies to make and keep you well while communicating across the board.”

“When you’re at the table with your doctor, he or she will engage you and you will finally feel like a partner in your own health and well being,” said Health and Social Services Secretary Rita Landgraf. “It’s something new because it’s part of all these changes to health care delivery.”

She said that DCHI and the Health Care Commission are currently in talk to develop a two-year training program to revolutionize health care provider’s approach to care. The program will be integrated into the curriculum of educational institutions so health care professionals in training will begin practice having already learned the new suggested approaches.

Despite any changes in the approach to health care, costs are high for patients and typically based on the number of appointments and number and type of procedures performed.

“Changes are coming and we will be looking more at the outcomes of care. Payments will relate more closely to ‘is the patient feeling better?,’ has the patient’s health improved,? has the patient been out of the hospital?’” said DCHI board member Gary Siegelman. “It will be a key step in fundamentally changing the system.”

The streamlined medical record system will play a large part in cutting costs by ensuring check-ups, procedures and testing is not duplicated.

A common scorecard including 26 criteria will ensure that each doctor is performing his or her role in a patients overall care. The score card will be rolling out this year and will be elective for health care providers to adopt the first year.

The score cards will be used to identify if the solutions DCHI and the Health Care Commission are producing results and if their are areas lagging behind, which areas they are, making improvement more attainable.

For more information about DCHI and the Health Care Commission’s plans, visit choosehealthde.com.

Reach staff writer Ashton Brown at abrown@newszap.com. Follow @AshtonReports on Twitter.

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