HealthConnect.Link Bolsters Community Resource Access
Originally posted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work here
By AnnaKathryn Kruger
Reliable access to social services is highly contingent on how easily individuals seeking help can obtain accurate and up-to-date information about community programming. HealthConnect, a startup based in Dane County, WI, has developed a community asset database that offers a comprehensive list of public resources to medical practitioners and healthcare professionals, to help them better identify the care options available to underinsured and low-income patients.
“Our formal mission is to create meaningful connections between people and the services that they need in our community every day,” says Kevin Dwyer, President and CEO of HealthConnect. The program is intended to act as a national unified resource that medical and social service professionals can rely upon when directing their clients to open service providers.
“50% of low-income patients say that they rely on a physician or at least a healthcare professional as their primary source of information. And that’s all well and good…but the problem is that most healthcare professionals don’t have [a resource] good enough to meet their needs in the context of a patient visit,” says Dwyer.
The process of searching for such resources is convoluted, time-consuming, and often produces less than optimal results. Consequently, physicians and other care professionals tend to fall back on previous knowledge of what exists in the community. They may refer their patients to places that have produced good experiences in the past, or rely on word-of-mouth references that originate from within their own professional network. This is problematic because it can lead to the over-utilization of a select number of community resources. HealthConnect strives to provide a fast and easy way to check exactly what community services are available, when, and which of these is equipped to offer a client the help that they need.
The UW-Madison School of Social Work is one of several partnerships that HealthConnect has established within the community. The school offers connections with over one hundred community partners and clinics, and provides an ideal user base to give feedback and help evaluate the database once it is implemented.
Associate Professor Tracy Schroepfer calls the HealthConnect database “truly revolutionary” in that it provides its users with an unprecedented amount of precise and relevant information. “What [Dwyer] is proposing would be the first of its kind in that, though people have set up databases before with resources, there’s never been upkeep,” says Schroepfer. “Now, not only will there be the availability of a database with resources, but it will always be kept up to date.”
In addition to the School of Social Work, HealthConnect has partnered with the Community Action Coalition, the Tenant Resource Center, Dean St. Mary’s, and We Are West 7th in St. Paul, Minn. They have also recently established partnerships with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA), the Road Home Dane County, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Dane County. The collaborative efforts of all of these institutions provide HealthConnect with information and support that it needs to draw and implement the most inclusive map of public resources.
Ultimately, HealthConnect is designed to improve patient outcomes. The primary method of achieving this is through better and more even distribution of clientele over a wide variety of resources. By promoting access to more institutions, HealthConnect can help alleviate the pressure that consistent overuse places on programs. What follows is more comprehensive service provision, wider access to community assets, and better patient outcomes. The database also offers individuals who are underinsured or struggling with poverty the opportunity to advocate on their own behalf by giving them the information necessary to effectively locate any services in the community that they may require.
In the next four to five years, HealthConnect will continue to expand outward in stages, from Dane County to the rest of Wisconsin, to Medicaid non-expansion states, and eventually to the entire United States. It will bring opportunities for treatment, recovery, and social service advocacy to whole populations for whom limited resource access has posed a significant impediment to receiving care and improving quality of life.