Patient Health Advocacy: Focusing on Patient Needs Beyond Medical Care
In 2016, The Free Clinics introduced our Patient Health Advocacy (PHA) program. In the beginning, it seemed like a simple idea – to focus on our patients’ social needs that create barriers to their health.
Nationally, our understanding about what affects our health is evolving. We are talking about health more broadly, coming to understand that health starts –long before illness– in our homes, schools, and jobs. Scientists have found that the conditions in which we live and work have an enormous impact on our health, long before we ever see a doctor. In fact, they determine up to 80% of our health.
Through our PHA program we don’t seek to duplicate services; rather, we utilize existing community organizations, and by partnering with them, we are able to connect our patients to the food, housing, and transportation resources that are available in our community.
The program has been life-changing for our patients, as we expected. By connecting our patients with the food, transportation, and housing resources they lack, we are empowering them with the full range of tools they need to gain and maintain their health.
It is revolutionizing the way that we help our neighbors in need and it is changing the dynamic at TFC and the way we look at patient programming. See, a funny thing happened when we started empowering our patients and connecting them with the resources they needed through our PHA program — they wanted to pay it forward.
We have been overwhelmed with requests from our patients to volunteer and give back! Frankly, we find ourselves playing catch-up, trying to find opportunities that will allow these grateful patients to give back to TFC. In Spring of 2016 we were able to implement our first patient-directed program by starting a Community Garden. Then, in November of 2016 we began our Bikes for Life program — another program heavily influenced by the needs of our patients. Both of these programs serve our patients’ needs and give them the empowering opportunity to give back through volunteering.