Nathan Gray ’20 — This summer I am fortunate to participate in a Global Health Initiative internship with Wabash alumnus Dr. Todd Rowland (www.bridge2medical.com) with my fellow intern Artie Equihua. This is the first of a series of blog posts where I share my experiences and observations about the healthcare field. I would like to thank the G. Michael Dill Fund for making this valuable opportunity possible.
During my week in Bloomington, I had the pleasure to shadow many of the staff at HealthLINC, a health information exchange, and at the Volunteers In Medicine (VIM) Clinic of Monroe County which provides care for the medically underserved. As I learned, in a healthcare system as fragmented as ours, a patient can quickly rack up a laundry list of medical care providers, and the failure of providers to coordinate their care can be deadly. Medical errors may result in as many as 251,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, making it the third leading cause of death in the country.1 Coordinating care and patient medical records across providers is critical to challenging this unacceptable statistic.
Health information exchanges, like HealthLINC, are playing an essential role in this battle by developing tools that aggregate a patient’s data into more complete and accessible records for all the providers using the tool. Sitting-in on a staff meeting and a conference call with their software developer provided Artie and I a unique peek into how these tools are developed, and my time at the VIM Clinic, which uses HealthLINC’s tools, demonstrated their important use.
The dedication of the VIM staff to their mission and the empathy with which they treated everyone who came into the clinic was an astounding sight. In my time at the clinic, I was inspired by an approach to medical care that was truly focused on improving patient outcomes of wellness—not only through clinical treatment but also by tackling the behavioral and social determinants of health whether that be overcoming language barriers, lifestyle counseling, or accessing social services. In carrying out their work, the VIM staff make effective use of digital health tools to the betterment of their patients.
Finally, a visit to the Critical Access hospital in Paoli, Indiana exposed me to the challenges for rural populations to access medical care. Critical Access is a designation given by the government to hospitals which serve rural populations and meet a number of other requirements. Critical Access hospitals, and especially their 24/7 emergency departments, are often an essential provider of care to these communities. Rural populations have greater difficulty accessing affordable medical care than their urban counterparts due to the limited supply of rural healthcare providers and other obstacles like transportation. It seems many now rely on the emergency departments of these hospitals as their primary care providers. This causes financial strain on the hospitals, is non-ideal for long term patient care, and if proper information systems are not in place, larger hospitals to which patients are transferred, may lack access to their patients’ complete medical records.
My experiences highlighted how various groups are working to reduce disparities in access and quality of care for the medically underserved and the important role that coordinated care plays in improving patient outcomes. In the coming weeks, I look forward to gaining a better understanding of the different actors involved in our healthcare system and how they are responding to changes in the industry of healthcare in innovative and patient-centered ways. A special thanks to Kathy Church from HealthLINC, the VIM Clinic staff especially Ed Hinds, and Sonya Zeller from IU Health Paoli for their time and effort in making this week so valuable.
1. Anderson, JG; Abrahamson, K. “Your Health Care May Kill You: Medical Errors” Stud Health Technol Inform. 2017