Community Needs Assessments

I’m currently taking a great Coursera class on population health management (PHM) called “Assessing and Improving Community Health.” I find PHM to be a very interesting area. Its shares many similarities with the more well-known concept of public health, but there are also some differences. The teacher does a fantastic job of navigating the intricacies of both public health and PHM, but to me, the biggest factor that distinguishes these two concepts lies in which areas of the health spectrum they focus.

Here’s what I mean: while public health practitioners often deploy interventions on a clinical level (and initiatives under this umbrella are constrained via funding to stay within these boundaries), PHM initiatives seek to intervene further upstream, in areas that medical care doesn’t touch such as education, nutrition, exercise, safety, and overall healthy lifestyle choices.

What I like so far in my PHM journey is that its practitioners — along with those in the public health space — are very non-judgmental. Most people, I think, realize that what zip code you’re born into determines a lot about the paths your life takes. Often times just getting kids enrolled in pre-K schooling, for instance, can have cascading effects that last throughout a person’s entire lifespan.

This brings me to community needs assessments. The Coursera class explains at length how these assessments can be utilized to identify health issues in communities. According to the National Academy for State Health Policy:

Tax-exempt hospitals receive billions of dollars in tax exemptions each year. In exchange, they are required to invest in the health of their communities. But to do that, hospitals must first identify the health needs of the communities they serve.

Because of this, federal law requires tax-exempt hospitals to conduct community health needs assessments, or CHNAs. These must be done every three years, and the IRS is even involved. The NASHP goes on to say the following:

The US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) requires tax-exempt hospitals to solicit and take into account input from at least one state, local, or tribal public health department as well as from medically underserved, low-income, and minority populations in their communities. It also says that hospitals may solicit input from consumer advocates, community organizations, academics, local governments, school districts, providers, health plans, business, and labor representatives.

This approach ensures that these hospitals spend more on the communities that surround them. I’ll be sure to add more information as I get further into the class, but that’s all for now.

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