Some community health centers live up to their name

As the healthcare industry places a stronger emphasis on patient engagement, a new study from the Institute for Alternative Futures shows how some community health centers are going beyond clinical care, improving health by changing community conditions.

Community health centers (CHCs), the care providers of last resort for many low-income people, have long sought to reach beyond the hospital walls to help shift the social, economic, and environmental factors that shape their patients' health.

[See also: Community hospitals adopting IT faster than ever.]

In the new report, titled "Community Health Centers Leveraging the Social Determinants of Health," futurists and health experts from the Institute for Alternative Futures (IAF) conduct a systematic view of the non-clinical work of CHCs.

The IAF study comes after a recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-sponsored poll found that most physicians recognize the importance of the patient's community and social conditions – also known as the social determinants of health (SDH) – but many are not confident in their capacity to address their patients' social needs and believe this impedes their ability to provide quality care. The IAF report describes the patterns across many initiatives and also details recommendations developed at a national workshop of community and public health leaders on how to support and expand these actions.

[See also: Community hospitals push ahead with IT, despite tight budgets.]

The efforts identified by the study address a range of factors, including youth development; family and social support; access to legal aid and healthy foods; adult education; job skills and employment; physical activity; community safety, wellbeing, and involvement; healthy, safe, and affordable housing; recreational spaces and improved air and water quality in the community.

Specific examples from the study include:

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