A successful system is one that meets the needs of the people it serves—and we can only tell if it is meeting their needs if we are listening to the people themselves. As we work to change the health care system, we need to actively seek out the stories that show where the system is working and where it is not.
At last week’s event hosted by Metro Community Provider Network and Together Colorado about the Bridges to Care program, I learned how this concept was being applied at the micro-level. The program began when it was discovered that a handful of patients were generating abnormally high costs to the system through their frequent usage of inpatient hospitalization and ER visits, and these patients’ costs would be much lower with a more holistic approach to their care. In this new approach, each patient shares his or her health care story with a care team, and together they can begin untangling each complex and unique situation and assign appropriate social and health care resources to help. Over time, the results of these interventions have started to show; in one example shared at the event, a patient’s previously high ER use had been dramatically reduced through focused efforts on addressing underlying behavioral health problems.
This health care model, also known as hot-spotting, is a micro-level approach to improving a community’s health. One part of its process is to use these patients’ individual stories to figure out where his or her needs are not being met, and how resources can be applied to meet those needs. At CCMU, we’ve seen firsthand through Colorado HealthStory how powerful sharing stories can be, and it’s great to see this kind of storytelling incorporated directly into a health care delivery system. As Colorado works toward more macro-level systems change though, we as a state have not made the same commitment to including patient stories in the dialogue. How can we claim to be meeting the health care needs of our fellow Coloradans, if we don’t make it a priority to talk to the people whose everyday experiences are rife with struggles to get their health care needs met?
It is important that we are authentic in our leadership towards a healthier Colorado, which requires that we remain connected to those we serve. Working on behalf of the medically underserved means knowing who the medically underserved are and what their stories tell us about the cracks in the system. A participant at the Bridges to Care event said it best: “We all have a story. If we all take the time to listen to each other, we’ll all be better for it.”