- The AHA’s Health Research & Education Trust (HRET) has released a playbook detailing how healthcare organizations can create community healthcare partnerships to drive continuous patient engagement and an overall culture of health.
The playbook, created in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), includes insights from 10 successful hospital-community partnerships. Each of these partnerships were working toward driving a culture of health, which is a core goal for community health partnerships, AHA said.
Building a culture of health means driving health equity, the report explained. Patients should be able to achieve their highest possible level of wellness regardless of socioeconomic factors, racial demographics, environment, and age.
“This commitment is part of redefining the hospital — the ‘H’ — and moving from episodic to continuous patient engagement, and partnering with other organizations and the community to improve health more broadly — that is, population health,” AHA wrote.
Hospitals are best aligned to drive a culture of health that permeates an entire community, according to AHA. In addition to offering medical expertise, hospitals are large centers of employment and community activity, the report authors said. However, hospitals cannot improve community health on their own.
Community stakeholders are ideal partners in driving the culture of health because they can help meet patients where it is convenient. Community partners can also help account for the clinical care, socioeconomic, behavioral, and environmental factors driving health.
Healthcare organizations can start community health projects by first identifying their community partners. Hospitals should ensure these partners are viable and that hospital goals align with the potential partners’ goals.
AHA recommended conducting community health conversations to help identify the needs of the community and potential partners. These can include schools, faith-based organizations, housing and urban development offices, service organizations, local businesses, and public health organizations, depending upon the community’s unique needs.
Once the hospital selects its community partners, it must identify the specific skills and assets each partner brings to the project. Leveraging these skills will allow the partnership to flourish efficiently and cost-effectively.
Expanding these projects will also be vital, AHA noted, but will require careful planning. Partnerships should ease into projects of scale, starting with smaller goals and growing from there.
Community projects should enlist a qualified “spread team,” allow for customization that still fosters core tenets, support necessary infrastructure, and conduct regular check-ins.
Periodic reviews will likely open up multiple opportunities for community partnerships. Regular evaluations allow teams to review accomplishments, identify improvement areas, learn from different partners, spotlight the project within the community, and celebrate progress.
Success will also come from creating leadership buy-in and aligning with community partners’ core missions and values.
While the teamwork and open collaboration espoused in the playbook will be important, AHA recognized that funding is a key consideration when creating community partnerships. Leaders need to show funders that their project is worth investing in.
Meeting deadlines and making deliverables, managing time and money, and leveraging unique skills within the partnership will show that a community health project is a sound funding opportunity. Projects can drive these priorities by enlisting a financial team lead.
This playbook is a part of AHA’s efforts to drive community health, address the social determinants of health, and improve population health. These efforts align with the industry’s goals to create more wellness in patients at a lower cost.
“Population health encompasses clinical and nonclinical approaches for improving health, preventing disease and reducing health disparities,” the organization said in the report. “The AHA recognizes that collaborations, specifically hospital-community partnerships, are nonclinical yet essential in addressing community health issues and creating a larger impact.”
AHA has also recently released a similar guide detailing how to conduct community health conversations. The guidebook offers a play-by-play of ideal meeting content, key stakeholders, meeting goals, and tips for meaningful conversation.
Community health conversations are ideal for understanding what types of health interventions the specific community needs, AHA explained. By partnering with community stakeholders, healthcare professionals, and patients, hospitals can determine how they best can support community health.