Dr. Timothy Long is Chief Clinical Officer at the Alliance of Chicago Community Health Services. Founded in 1997 as a partnership of four federally qualified health centers (FQHCs), the Alliance has since grown to a network of over 30 FQHCs. Recently, Dr. Long and his Alliance colleagues partnered with the University of Chicago and the Chicago Health IT Regional Extension Center to develop CommunityRx. CommunityRx connects patients to community resources, such as yoga studios, pharmacies, and sources of fresh produce, using a continuously updated electronic database.
As the CommunityRx project got started, the Alliance saw an opportunity to increase its impact. The Alliance was already in the process of integrating clinical summaries into its workflows. Dr. Long and his colleagues realized that information about relevant 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, while CommunityRx provides local resources that patients can access as part of self-care outside of the doctor’s office.
But as Dr. Long describes, the Alliance’s providers 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 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, ideally through redesigned 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. Dr. Long explained to his colleagues that CommunityRx lists “offer patients access to much needed services that go beyond what we can offer during office visits.” Once Dr. Long’s colleagues understood the value of the resource, the team could focus on the redesigned workflows to support delivery of CommunityRX information to patients.
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. 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.
The improved workflow increased provider compliance to nearly 100 percent. 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.