Study: Community business model to improve health shows early success

Although the program is still in its early stages, a new Health Affairs study indicates a community business model that addresses nonclinical factors of health outcomes shows promise for improving population health.

The study, led by George J. Isham, senior advisor at HealthPartners and senior fellow at the HealthPartners Institute of Education and Research, looked at the results of the community business model adopted by Minnesota-based HealthPartners in 2010 as part of a strategic business plan to improve health in the Twin Cities area.

The integrated healthcare system--the largest consumer governed nonprofit healthcare organization in the nation--has participated in 20 multisectoral health initiatives, but the study focused on four areas of the model, which is designed to:

  • Promote healthy eating in schools
  • Reduce the stigma of mental illness
  • Improve end-of-life decision-making
  • Strengthen an inner-city neighborhood

The healthy eating campaign, launched in response to childhood obesity concerns, encouraged schoolchildren to learn more about the benefits of healthy eating and to track their fruit and vegetable consumption over a four-week period. Schools voluntarily participated and "competed" for $500 cash incentives that could be used for health and wellness promotion.  

The initial results of the initiative were encouraging, according to the study. During the 2011–12 school year, about 76 percent of the 15,000 students in 32 elementary schools voluntarily tracked their fruit and vegetable intake in the challenge and students' fruit and vegetable consumption increased by 11 percent. Interestingly, the study shows students' consumption of fruit and vegetables increased even more--by 22 percent--on weekends.

HealthPartners invested approximately $300,000 up front in the program to supply creative components, staff time to support the schools, and evaluation services. The program has since expanded to include 60 additional schools.

To reduce the stigma of mental illness, HealthPartners worked with NAMI Minnesota, the Preston Kelly advertising agency and other groups to change community attitudes through a public education campaign that provides practical tips about how to discuss what many people consider an awkward subject. According to the HealthAffairs study, the campaign received approximately $500,000 through a Regions Hospital Foundation fundraising effort that also raised money for improved mental healthcare facilities. The campaign is only in the first year of a multi-year project so results are still pending.

For its end-of-life decision-making initiative, HealthPartners encouraged providers and community ambassadors to begin educating patients and the general public about end-of-life planning. The campaign, which included a partnership with the Minnesota Citizens League, included a series of meetings with citizens about end-of-life issues, which led to a five-part television series on Twin Cities Public Television about the importance of families having these conversations. As part of the project, HealthPartners helped recruit additional funders and partners and served as a project advisor on community engagement.

Finally, for its efforts to strengthen inner-city neighborhoods, HealthPartners contributed $200,000 to take part in a community-wide initiative to provide academic and social support to children in a culturally diverse, inner-city section of Saint Paul. Early work has included the school challenge, a jump-rope fitness program and a transportation program to assist children in the neighborhoods.

According to Isham and his colleagues, the early work of HealthPartners shows a community business model is one way to bring together institutions and businesses that don't typically work together. The study authors write that they hope the case study will encourage other healthcare organizations to participate in new approaches to improving the health of their communities.

For more:
- here's the abstract and study (.pdf -- subscription required)

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