My last blog was on how today’s medical system fails by not addressing the real needs of our patients and their communities. Here, I highlight three projects that take such an “upstream” approach to healthcare:
Doctors can give prescriptions for medications, but why not a prescription for healthy foods and safer housing? Health Leads employs young people (usually college graduates interested in careers in health) to be advocates who assist doctors in clinics and ERs in connecting patients with community resources. They help with everything from food assistance to job training to legal counseling. They help to “fill” the other prescriptions that people need to achieve better health.
Recognizing that black males have significant health disparities and that outreach and education must start in the community, Project Brotherhood was conceived from a simple idea: give patients free haircuts, and use barber shops as a place to screen and counsel on illnesses such as high blood pressure and STI prevention. Its model of multidisciplinary, culturally competent care incorporates other aspects of social support, including on fatherhood and job support.
The New York Times just published a story about an “EMS Corps” in East Oakland that specifically recruits at-risk youth and train them to be emergency medical technicians. They provide mentorship for young men who come from backgrounds of poverty and violence, and train them to become professionals who will serve their communities. As the story cites, these men are taught that they aren’t the problem—they are the solution.
These are only some of the some of the many innovations occurring around the country. We need far more interventions that go beyond “band aid” care. In the words of public health doctor Rishi Manchanda (whose recent TED talk I highly recommend), we must change our entire approach to healthcare, away from simply treating the effects of illnesses to targeting interventions to where people live, work, and play—where health really begins.