Health Care Coordination

Certificate Program Provides Career Path with Goal of Improved Patient Care

“The trend in patient care is to establish an effective bridge from acute care to care at home,” observes Sandra Affenito, Ph.D., University of Saint Joseph associate provost of Academic Affairs/dean of Graduate Studies and Research. With a highly-regarded public health program, the newly launched 12-credit certificate program in Health Care Coordination at USJ was a “natural fit.”

“There is a demonstrated workforce need,” she continued, “and it is fast becoming an excellent career path,” Affenito explained. “The concept of helping patients to navigate the health care system to ensure a continuity of care is increasingly recognized as essential.”

The department of Nutrition & Public Health, within the School of Health & Natural Sciences, established the certificate program, open to all majors but particularly attractive to students in Public Health, Social Work, and Nutrition.

USJ aims to educate graduates to be effective liaisons between patients, community agencies, and health care organizations to increase preventative care and use of primary care providers, and to decrease use of Emergency Departments, unnecessary hospitalizations, and poor health outcomes. The goals are directly in line with USJ’s Mercy mission.

“We train students to meet people where they are,” explains Katie Martin, Ph.D., assistant professor of Nutrition and Public Health. “Students learn to recognize the social determinants of health, such as language barriers or lack of transportation, which can impact care. It is an interdisciplinary program for students, a holistic approach to responding to patients.”

A relationship with Saint Francis Healthcare Partners has already led to the first intern placement for a USJ student interested in health care coordination. Lindsey Stefens, a senior Public Health major, is enthusiastic about the internship and the career possibilities.

“It is the clinical side of public health,” she explains, stressing that she was not aware of the role of a health coordinator, or the relatively new facet of the health professions, before the internship possibility was shared with her by Director Martin.

“I love it!” Stefens exclaims, convinced the USJ program will be a “great success,” because “there is a real need for these skills. People with health concerns need people they can talk with, to help them navigate the system so that they don’t end up right back in the hospital. This program, and especially the internship, will prepare students for jobs that can really help people, teaching these skills before graduation.”

In the early weeks of her semester-long internship, Stefens quickly learned two software programs in order to research patient records and compile data for use by the team at Saint Francis. Knowing when someone last had a colonoscopy, for example, could be key to alerting them to the need to do so again, as a preventative measure to provide early detection of colon cancer.

Stefens is particularly looking forward to the second phase of her internship,  when she will accompany members of the Saint Francis team on patient visits, in individuals’ homes. “I’ve learned that preventative care is not just about their medical condition. It is about the social determinants as well. Maybe they can’t afford the transportation cost to get to a doctor’s visit. Or there are other concerns in the family. When I look at the data and see that they are frequently coming to the hospital, the question is why.”

Figuring out why, in meeting with and working with individual patients, is key to preventative care, and what the burgeoning field of health coordination is all about.

Khadija Poitras-Rhea, LCSW, is Director of Care Coordination & Population Health Management at Saint Francis Healthcare Partners, leading the hospital’s growing professional team and coordinating the internship program.

Saint Francis is moving aggressively to integrate the new approach, and the internship is part of the effort. Stefens has been tremendously impressed with the varied backgrounds the Saint Francis multi-disciplinary team offers.

Poitras-Rhea says the internships will be of value to students in a range of majors, who look to “establish rapport” with patients and get a glimpse of an increasingly indispensable career.

“More often than not, the reason people have poor health outcomes is not medical, it is due to other factors,” Poitras-Rhea explains. “To improve the quality of care, and provide a better patient experience, the idea of a care coordinator is being embraced — it is a huge shift in treating patients.”

The certificate program includes a seminar course to integrate past coursework and prepare students for their internship experience. Upon completion, students will have learned to assess and screen patients for chronic disease, health risks and appropriate community services, evaluate patient understanding of healthcare needs using cultural humility, and identify resources available for patients.

In addition, students will develop expertise to use motivational interviewing skills to help patients, act as advocates for the patient and family along the continuum of care, and establish relationships with patients, providers, health insurance agencies, and community partners.

The program is already proving attractive to prospective and current students. They may, in moving through the curriculum, see themselves as pioneers, forging a new path to achieve better patient care and improved health outcomes.

By Bernard L. Kavaler – PDF of Article in Outlook Magazine

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