Helping Each Other Take Care of Each Other

Steve Adams

  • How many billions of dollars in volunteer health care services are donated in this country?
  • How can HIT stimulus dollars help to provide development of businesses or business models that provide an economic multiplier effect to the value of volunteer health services work?
  • How can volunteer health care services be attached to the coordinated care team? (Clinicians, family, friends, volunteers)

I attended a “Health Fair” today.  I confess that it is the first one I have experienced.  While I have been working in health care information technology longer than I will admit, I have been aware of “health fairs” but never actually participated.  I have always been able to afford health insurance throughout my adult life and in my childhood my parents had access to employer sponsored health coverage.  When I am due for a check up or need other attention to my aging body, I have been quite fortunate to have very talented and dedicated physicians and other providers who accommodate me and take care of me.

So, I have had my first experience with “low and no-cost health screenings.”  I really didn’t need to attend; I am current on my checkups and quite tuned in to the shortcomings of my body and where I need to improve my health.  I am a bit of a HIT “gizmologist.”  I have blood pressure cuffs, glucose meters, Bluetooth bathroom scales, pedometers and other devices strewn about my office and all web connected.  Not because I have a chronic disease or because I am a hypochondriac; it is simply my business.  I attended this health fair because my company has been working with the organizer of the fair for a couple of years to add some HIT to the health fair process.  I felt that I needed to have a first-hand understanding of how health fairs work, and about the work flow and businesses processes involved.

The hospital where the fair location was held is new and beautiful. I have heard it referred to it as the “Hotel Bellagio” of hospitals in this area.  The community where the hospital resides was just written up as one of the most affluent in the country.

My wife and I arrived at 6:50 AM and I was frankly surprised to see that the vast parking lot was nearly full and there were already lines of hundreds of people stretching outside into a chilly morning.  The people in line appeared to be of a middle-upper demographic and were generally younger than I had expected.  I don’t know what impact our current economic plight has had on the level of attendance and the demographics of the attendees, but I would wager it is not insignificant.

I went through the process- blood drawn for screenings, BP, BMI, blood glucose, etc. – all the usual suspects.  The usual healthcare devices, meters, test tubes and paraphernalia you would see at any clinic or physician office were used.  No surprises here.

I came away from the fair with some new ideas about how HIT can help with clinical and information processes in health fairs.  No big surprise here either, as it is my job after all and what I spend my waking (and too often “sleeping”) hours thinking about.  

While there were no real surprises for me as far as the technical aspects of the health fair, I came away from this event quite surprised in a different way- you might even say I had a profound revelation.  My revelation had to do with the motivations and the spirit of the people doing the work. 

The dozens of health care workers that shuffled people through the hospital, organized the paper work, drew the blood, and administered the multitude of tests all were doing it on a volunteer basis.  There are over 19,000 clinical and non-clinical volunteers in Colorado state-wide that make the fair possible. 

The 9Health Fair is a volunteer initiative and is the largest in the US, with nearly 100,000 people being screened annually.  It’s major sponsors include the NBC affiliate in Denver, 9NEWS, Quest Diagnostics, GE and Abott Diabetes Care.  Channel 9 has a powerful media reach in Colorado and there are frequently lines at most of the 170 fair locations across Colorado.  There are countless testimonials from people who have discovered or prevented illnesses by participating in the 9Health Fair for the 30 years they have been in operation.  These are powerful stories of life changing events; personal stories of people who would not be alive or not enjoying life as they are without these low and no cost screenings.  

The spirit and enthusiasm of these volunteers was palpable and powerful.  They had a real “buzz” of enthusiasm that was contagious.  They were doing this work because they care for people.  It is their nature.  Their motivation is the personal gratification they receive for making a difference in people’s lives. No stock options, no profit sharing, no golden parachutes. This is the basic humanity of helping each other take care of each other.  This is an incredibly powerful force that is being harnessed in this health fair and others around the country.  It is not just health fairs, but the countless thousands of dedicated people who do volunteer work in hospitals, clinics, homes, churches and homeless shelters.

The power of people helping each other take care of each other is the bedrock of our health care system.  It is the wife caring for her spouse with Alzheimer’s. It is the friend driving a neighbor to chemotherapy. It is the health care provider that takes time from their day to make a difference with someone where there is no CPT code for the billing.

Helping each other take care of each other needs to be a fundamental part of the formula for improving our health care system.  It is an elemental force of being human and we must weave the power of caring for each other into our rapidly evolving plans for national health care reform.  We need to focus on how disruptive technologies can be employed to gain a multiplier effect of all the good work that many thousands of volunteers are doing in this country. The opportunities to use health care information technology should not just be focused on hospitals, clinics and practices, but be inclusive of the power of the volunteer work done by organizations, individuals, families and of course the patients themselves.  Any technology that supports a clinically coordinated care team, a patient centered medical home or other collaborative care and connected community models needs to leverage this power.  Steve
Adams is Founder and CEO of RMD Networks, a Denver, Colorado based

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2 replies »

  1. Health fairs are great. You learn many different ways to stay healthy. To do so, however, you must practice what you have learned.

  2. Wonderful insights, Steve. Too often these articles stop at the folks being seen, some articles do a cursory bit on the volunteers…but thanks for going on and bringing up how to help them.
    I do some work with, and research on, healthcare support groups. I have the same question. How to use HIT to help someone running the local addiction support group, or dieters, or depression…
    I keep thinking PHR’s may be a start.