Building Healthy Communities Via Technology
Nurses have an important role to play in the healthy community movement. The design, construction, and growth of healthy communities require nurses to build a diverse set of skills in informatics, data analytics, public health, and the social determinants of health.
Healthy communities emerge
Healthy communities—also known as healthy places or environments—are "designed and built to improve the quality of life for all people who live, work, worship, learn, and play within their borders—where every person is free to make choices amid a variety of healthy, available, accessible, and affordable options," according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).
Healthy community design, which is championed by the American Planning Association, preserves natural and cultural resources; distributes development costs; expands transportation, housing, and employment; ensures sustainability; and promotes public health and healthy communities.
Surfing "the second wave"
The healthcare industry already sees healthy communities as the "second wave of population health," says the Healthy Communities Institute. While more traditional population health focuses on chronic disease management and health promotion, the concept of healthy communities is anchored in a more expansive set of criteria, according to a guide from the American Hospital Association. Among the healthy community standards are the following:
- Value-based reimbursement
- Seamless care across all settings
- Proactive, systematic patient education
- Workplace education on population health
- HIT that supports risk stratification of patients
- Partnerships for community-based solutions
Equally important is the growing list of "social determinants of health," which include variables like housing, access to care, literacy, incarceration, environment, poverty, education, and insurance coverage, according to the American Publication Health Association and Healthy People 2020.
Technology enables healthy communities
Hospitals, health systems, public health departments, and community and employer coalitions will increasingly tap data from clinical visits, healthcare claims, and community-level assessments to strengthen healthy communities.
Doing so will deliver more accurate, timely insights into demographics, risk factors, and the distribution of diseases like congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, diabetes, and obesity.
With a deeper understanding of the social determinants of health in specific neighborhoods, communities, and service areas, nurses can design and adapt interventions to improve health outcomes.
Technology for Healthy Communities, which focuses on "connecting communities with sustainable health technologies," has already identified technologies needed to improve community health. Among them are the following:
- Social determinants of health screening and analytics
- Remote monitoring
- Education and engagement
- Chronic disease management
- Community health decision support
How can nurses thrive in an environment focused on value-based care, population health, and building healthy communities? Among the recommendations for training and education are the following:
- Get involved with local healthy community programs. The city of Chicago, for example, has piloted a Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities program.
- Track government initiatives. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is already promoting its Accountable Health Communities Model.
- Develop skills in data analytics. Seek educational opportunities that help you access and interpret data, focus business and clinical resources, and evaluate the results of health interventions.
- Engage with healthy community projects, including those sponsored by the Association for Community Health Improvement, Designing Healthy Communities, and Healthy Kids/Healthy Communities.
- Track initiatives of groups like the Association of Public Health Nurses, which developed the 2016 position paper, "The Public Health Nurse: Necessary Partner for the Future of Healthy Communities."
- Investigate healthcare technology incubators like the Penn Nursing Science's Health Technology Innovation Incubator.
- Focus on nursing programs that champion healthy communities, like the Bentson Healthy Communities Innovation Center at the University of Minnesota.
- Reflect on how varied types of nurses could help build healthy communities. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, for example, labels school nurses "the ticket to healthier communities."
Form an interprofessional collaborative to pursue healthy community design and improvement. Get started by reviewing the CDC's Healthy Community Design Checklist