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Health IT Success Stories

Dr. Long Uses Health IT to Connect Patients to Community Resources

'The CommunityRx program offers patients access to much-needed services that go beyond what we can offer during office visits.' – Dr. Timothy Long

Dr. Timothy Long is Chief Clinical Officer at the Alliance of Chicago Community Health Services. The Alliance was founded in 1997 as a partnership of four federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) and has since grown to a network of over 30 FQHCs. Recently, Dr. Long and his colleagues at the Alliance partnered with the University of Chicago and the Chicago Health IT Regional Extension Center to develop the CommunityRx project. The CommunityRx project uses a continuously updated electronic database of community health resources to connect patients to community resources, such as yoga studios, pharmacies, and sources of fresh produce. To participate in the project, the first step for the Alliance was integrating CommunityRx into its workflows.

Two Tools in Too Little Time

As the CommunityRx project got started, the Alliance saw an opportunity. The Alliance was already in the process of integrating clinical summaries into its workflows, and Dr. Long and his colleagues realized that information about community resources from the CommunityRx database would complement the information in clinical summaries. Clinical summaries help patients remember treatment plans and keep track of follow up care, and CommunityRx provides local resources, such as pharmacies, patients can use to follow their treatment plans.

The Alliance’s providers, however, were hesitant to take on an additional task “in an environment that was already taxed for time.”  Printing out and reviewing CommunityRx resources on top of clinical summaries “seemed unduly burdensome to providers.” Dr. Long and his colleagues needed to come up with a solution to help the Alliance’s providers efficiently get CommunityRx information to patients.

Redesigning Workflows and Gaining Provider Buy-In

In order to fully integrate CommunityRx resource lists into office visit workflows, the Alliance knew it would need to redesign office visit workflows. The first step for Dr. Long was obtaining provider buy-in. He held meetings with nurses, clinicians, and other health center staff. The Alliance’s providers soon realized the CommunityRx resource lists “offer patients access to much needed services that go beyond what we can offer during office visits,” Dr. Long explained. Once providers recognized the value of the CommunityRx program, Dr. Long and his colleagues were able to focus on workflow redesign.

Dr. Long and the providers discussed how to make the process of providing clinical summaries and CommunityRx resource lists as efficient as possible. These discussions led the Alliance to modify its electronic health record to automatically combine the clinical summary and CommunityRx resource list into a single document. The improved workflow increased provider compliance to nearly 100 percent. With access to clinical summaries and information about community health resources, the Alliance’s patients can now connect the dots between their health needs and community resources and take greater ownership of their health care.

Success and Future Goals

Since going live with CommunityRx in April 2013, the Alliance’s providers have handed out more than 7,000 CommunityRx resource lists to patients. “Implementation of CommunityRx has helped our patients use community services to achieve a variety of goals, such as improving stress management, increasing physical fitness, and buying fresh food,” Dr. Long said. The Alliance continues to spread the word about CommunityRx and has used posters, videos, flyers, and promotional events to publicize the program. Building on this success, Dr. Long and his colleagues plan to implement a patient portal in the near future.