Summit Speaker: Meet People’s Basic Needs

Prevention is a top concern for healthcare providers trying both to improve quality of life and rein in medical costs for their patients. But for people facing hunger, having tests to help detect prostate cancer, heart disease and other health conditions isn’t a concern at all.

“It’s highly unlikely for a 55-year-old male who is hungry and homeless to be worried about his PSA (prostate-specific antigen) or cholesterol,” said Lee Hammerling, MD, ProMedica’s chief medical officer.

As the U.S. healthcare industry works to improve population health, it’s clear there needs to be a focus on helping community partners provide food, housing, education, and other needs to area residents, Dr. Hammerling said.

“To focus on true population health, we really need to help meet people’s basic needs,” he said.

Come to the Table

Dr. Hammerling is one of the speakers for Come to the Table, a half-day summit about addressing hunger as a health issue in Chicago on May 14, 2014. Following a national summit on Capitol Hill in February, ProMedica and the Alliance to End Hunger are holding a series of regional summits to continue encouraging other healthcare providers nationwide to join the effort and work with community, business and government partners.

Hunger is among social determinants of health being addressed by ProMedica, which shares examples of work being done with various partners. The summit’s goal is to assist other U.S. healthcare organizations with adopting or creating ways to end hunger in their own communities, and Come to the Table Meeting-in-a-Box materials will be distributed to help with their discussions.

In 2013, for example, ProMedica started to screen hospital patients for hunger, and the program will be system-wide by the end of 2014. Patients who are facing hunger are discharged with a one-day, emergency food supply and connected to community resources for further assistance.

ProMedica Physicians is looking at establishing a hunger screening program for patients in physician offices, clinics and other facilities, too, Dr. Hammerling said.

And all patients, Dr. Hammerling said, should be evaluated for hunger: One ProMedica hospital recently had a retired professional trying to live on a $10-a-week food budget because he was too ashamed to admit he was the victim of financial abuse and needed help.

Population Health

At ProMedica, the system is dividing patients into categories to see how much help they need – including healthy, at risk, chronic, and acute – while keeping in mind that 70% of healthcare costs are spent on 15% of the population, Dr. Hammerling said.

That way, healthcare providers can focus prevention efforts to meet each patient’s need for health and well-being, Dr. Hammerling said. The use of electronic health records and other technology helps determine patients who need assistance managing their health, he said.

“We’re looking at different stages to try to keep them out of the office, emergency room or hospital,” Dr. Hammerling said. “Nobody wants to go to the hospital. Nobody wants to go to the ER. We all want to be healthy and be well.”

To help develop and deploy sustainable healthcare solutions to end hunger, contact CTTT@promedica.org or 419-469-3894. Join the ongoing discussion about hunger and health in the comments below or on Twitter using #CTTT2014.

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