[Healthcare Informatics]

A recent Advisory Board Company report looks at key building blocks in creating community connections

When it comes to making connections with communities in order to improve the health status of their members, the leaders of patient care organizations are learning that there are several key strategies that must be pursued, including building a business case for community connection with the c-suite and board; prioritizing the initial focus of community connection efforts; strengthening existing community partnerships; and designing seamless screening and referral protocols.

Those are some of the highlights of a new report from The Advisory Board Company, the Washington, D.C.-based consulting organization. Published in December, “Building the Business Case for Community Partnership: Lessons from the BUILD Health Challenge,” looks at some of the major challenges facing patient care organizations as they pursue population health management strategies. Its lead author was Rebecca Tyrell, a senior consultant in the Research Division at The Advisory Board.

As Tyrell and her colleagues note in the report, “Healthcare extends well beyond care settings—into homes, schools, and neighborhoods. Transforming health outcomes requires a coordinated effort to tackle such contributing factors as socioeconomic conditions, transportation, housing, environmental issues, and access to healthy food. Partnerships among health systems, public health bodies, and community organizations are the most effective ways to address community health. However, most organizations are traveling on separate but parallel paths toward building healthier communities, and as a result, valuable data, information, and resources are often siloed. Increased collaboration among key stakeholders, the researchers note, “will unlock tremendous power and drive better health outcomes. This research highlights innovative partnerships across the country to transform community health. Specifically, there are four critical steps to build the business case for community partnership.”

Those four, the report’s authors note, include engaging in leadership: “build[ing] a compelling business case to garner executive buy-in and needed resources”; prioritizing initial focus—“determin[ing] what services or programs to start with, recognizing process will be iterative”; strengthening partnerships through “leverag[ing the] unique strengths of community organizations to extend care team reach; and designing seamless screening and referral protocols, through “clearly link[ing] these two steps to ensure timely follow-through and improved patient and provider satisfaction.”

These conclusions are connected to research that Advisory Board leaders have reached, based on experience with efforts by providers to create community connections, including, though not limited to, BUILD Health Challenge communities. As its website explains, “The BUILD Health Challenge encourages communities to build meaningful partnerships among hospitals and health systems, community-based organizations, their local health department and other organizations to improve the overall health of local residents.” The initiative is supported by The Advisory Board and by broad range of foundations and initiatives, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, the Telligen Community Initiative, and several other foundations and initiatives.

As Tyrell and her colleagues note in their report, “The first challenge is narrowing down the list of potential focus areas. The wide range of social determinants of health—economic stability, physical environment, education, food, social context—lead to either decision paralysis or an overwhelming number of initiatives that stretch resources too thinly, resulting in limited impact. Instead, leaders in this space work with their community and use their own data to prioritize a subset of initiatives. Across BUILD participants, food and nutrition emerged as the most common area of partnership. Forty-one percent of BUILD communities are designing innovative programs that link residents to food pharmacies, fruit and vegetable prescription programs, cooking demonstrations, nutrition education courses, and an expanded network of food suppliers to expand access to healthy options.” They go one to note that, “To prioritize efforts in your own community, BUILD leaders recommend organizations: “utilize a mix of qualitative and quantitative data; be transparent about how decisions will be made, especially when priorities may differ across stakeholders; define terms to avoid assumptions and misunderstandings; [and] prevent [the] perfect from being the enemy of [the] good.”

According to Tyrell, round 1 of BUILD projects put their emphasis on the following areas of activity: food and nutrition (41 percent); neighborhood and build environment (35 percent); housing (18 percent); and crime and violence (18 percent), as factors influencing the health of communities.