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Improving Mental Health Care for Veterans is Vital

Nov 12, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Ilse Wiechers

Ilse Wiechers, MD, MPP, MHS is associate director at the Northeast Program Evaluation Center in the Office of Mental Health Operations of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and faculty with the Yale Geriatric Psychiatry Fellowship. She is an alumna of the Yale Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)/VA Clinical Scholars Program (2012-2014).

Ilse Wiechers

Health and disease are on a continuum.  We are at a point in time where we are trying to understand the constituents of health, whereas historically our focus has been on understanding disease. It is important to recognize that veterans have unique determinants of health not shared with the rest of the population, such as exposure to combat and prolonged time spent away from social support networks during deployment.

These exposures can put veterans at increased risk for mental health problems, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance use problems. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a health care system uniquely positioned to help improve the overall health of veterans because of its expertise in addressing these unique mental health needs.

I have the privilege to serve our nation’s veterans through my work as a geriatric psychiatrist conducting program evaluation for the Office of Mental Health Operations (OMHO) at the VA. My work provides me an opportunity to directly participate in several of the key components of the comprehensive mental health services the VA provides for veterans.

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An Anthropological Approach to Medicine

Oct 31, 2014, 2:00 PM, Posted by Theresa Yera

Theresa Yera is a senior at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo. A project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, and Rutgers University, Project L/EARN is a 10-week summer internship that provides training, experience and mentoring to undergraduate college students from socioeconomic, ethnic and cultural groups that traditionally have been underrepresented in graduate education.

Theresa Yera

When I applied to the 2014 Project L/EARN cohort, I was seeking exposure to anthropological research that would lead me into a career of public health service. I wanted to pursue L/EARN because of my strong interest in anthropology and medicine. My previous experience in health care included studying for the Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) examinations, volunteering as a Campus Health Educator (CHE), and participating in qualitative and quantitative research projects for almost three years.

The training as an EMT introduced me to patient and health care provider interaction and raised questions on streamlining the process. It also trained me to think critically and quickly, sharpen my leadership skills, and develop interview questions. Patients complained of many chronic and acute health problems that stemmed from their health behaviors and environment. The CHE initiative led me to value a community approach for health problems. In CHE, I worked to end racial disparities in organ donation and increase awareness of the need for organ donation and a healthy lifestyle. I met many individuals with personal stories that explained why they either did or did not want to donate.

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RWJF Pioneering Ideas Podcast: Episode 6 | What if? Shifting Perspectives to Change the World

Oct 20, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

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RWJF's Pioneering Ideas Podcast is on iTunes! Don’t miss an episode—click to subscribe.

Welcome to the sixth episode of RWJF’s Pioneering Ideas podcast, where we explore cutting edge ideas and emerging trends that can help build a Culture of Health. Your host is Lori Melichar, director at the foundation.

Ideas Explored in This Episode

Sharing Health Care Providers’ Notes (3:08) OpenNotesTom Delbanco and Jan Walker talk with RWJF’s Emmy Ganos about why they decided getting health care providers to share their notes with patients was an essential innovation–and where their work is headed next. Here’s a hint: what if the  3 million patients who now have easy access to their clinician’s notes could co-write notes with their providers?

Rethinking How We Solve Poverty (18:46) Kirsten Lodal, founder and CEO of LIFT, talks with RWJF’s Susan Mende and shares some simple ideas with the potential to revolutionize our approach to helping people achieve economic stability and well being. In a thought-provoking conversation, Lodal connects the dots between improving the well being of those living in poverty and building a Culture of Health.

A Historian’s Take on Building a Culture of Health (27:58) – Princeton historian Keith Wailoo and RWJF’s Steve Downs discuss how deeply held cultural narratives influence our perceptions of health, and how today’s “wild ideas” are often tomorrow’s cutting edge innovations.

Sound bites

...On opening up health care providers’ notes and what’s next:

“What I would like to do is spread the responsibility for health beyond the health care system. The health care system is good; I hope that it gets better, but there are so many other parts of our lives that contribute to our well being.” – Jan Walker, OpenNotes 

“It will be a very different world in the future. And we do think that OpenNotes is kind of giving people a peek into it. It's a first glimmer that this kind of transparency, this kind of approach to things, while it's passive now, it just opens up an enormous amount of possibilities for the future. And that's what really excites us.” – Tom Delbanco, OpenNotes

...On rethinking how we solve poverty:

“People's lives are like rivers... they flowed before coming into contact with us, and they will flow after having contact with us. And so the opportunity that we have, the privilege that we have is of most positively affecting the trajectory and the velocity of that flow. But if we forget that–if we get too swept up in having to own everything that happens in a person's life–then we won't build the best solutions, because we won't build solutions that provide people with the support they need to navigate the flow of that river over the long term.” – Kirsten Lodal, LIFT

...A historian’s take on building a Culture of Health: 

“Our concern with aggregate trends is an important one in tracing the shifting demographics of health in our country, but to understand what health actually means involves actually putting the data aside and thinking about lives and thinking about individuals and thinking about what these trends mean on an individual level.”– Keith Wailoo, Princeton University

Your Turn

Now that you’ve listened – talk about it! Did anything you heard today get you thinking in new ways about how you can help build a Culture of Health? Do you have a cutting-edge idea you’d like to discuss? Comment below or tweet at me at @lorimelichar, or consider submitting a proposal. Be sure to keep the conversation and explorations going at #RWJFpodcast.

Join the Conversation

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Lack of Coverage for Undocumented Patients Puts Pressure on the Health Care Safety Net

Sep 26, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Michael K. Gusmano

Michael Gusmano

The nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants constitute a “medical underclass” in American society. [1,2] Apart from their eligibility for emergency Medicaid, undocumented immigrants as a population are ineligible for public health insurance programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and subsidies available to purchase private health insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, because they are not “lawfully present” in the United States. [3] Federal health policy does provide undocumented immigrants with access to safety-net settings, such as an acute-care hospital’s emergency department (ED), or a community health center (CHC). Since 1986, the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) has required that all patients who present in an ED receive an appropriate medical screening and, if found to be in need of emergency medical treatment (or in active labor), to be treated until their condition stabilizes. CHCs such as Federally Qualified Health Centers and other nonprofit or public primary care clinics serving low-income and other vulnerable populations trace their origins to health policy that includes the Migrant Health Act of 1962. [4]

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Communities of Color and Mental Health

May 21, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by David Fakunle

David Fakunle, BA, is a first-year doctoral student in the mental health department of The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is an alumnus of Project L/EARN, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research at Rutgers University.

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It is always interesting to speak with my relatives when an egregious act of violence occurs, such as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School back in December 2012. They are always so disheartened about the mindset of an individual who can perpetrate such a horrible act. When I mentioned that this particular perpetrator, Adam Lanza, suffered from considerable mental disorder including possible undiagnosed schizophrenia, the response was something to the effect of, “Okay, so he was crazy.”

That’s it. He was crazy. I love my family dearly, but it saddens me as to how misinformed some of my relatives are about mental health. Notice that I say “misinformed” as opposed to “ignorant” because to me, being ignorant means you are willingly disregarding the information provided to you. But that is the issue: communities of color, in many cases, are not well-informed, if informed at all, about mental health. That is what drives the negative stereotypes that are highly prevalent within communities of color.

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New Participants in RWJF Health & Society Scholars Program to Study Determinants of Population Health

May 16, 2014, 10:00 AM

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program has announced the selection of 12 new scholars who will investigate how connections among biological, genetic, behavioral, social, economic, and environmental conditions impact the population’s health.

“We’re pleased to announce our newest class of Health & Society Scholars. These new scholars will continue to advance the program’s decade-long mission to answer the questions critical to guiding health policy and improving our nation’s health,” said Jo Ivey Boufford, MD, co-director with Christine Bachrach, PhD, of the national program office for the Health & Society Scholars program, and president of the New York Academy of Medicine.

The program seeks to improve the nation’s health by better understanding and acting on the determinants that can reduce population health disparities. Among many topics, the new scholars will study social factors underlying infectious disease transmission, as well as possible interventions designed to improve urban health. Previous cohorts of scholars have researched how health is influenced by civic engagement, discrimination, human happiness, work environment, public health policies, and many other societal factors.

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How to Address Disparities? Meet Patients Where They Are, Connect Health to Community Values.

Apr 29, 2014, 12:00 PM

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How can we get more people to think pro-actively about health and health care? One approach would be to identify what people value and think about how to fold health into that equation—especially for populations where disparities exist, like health screening for men. 

In the case of where I live, the answer was cars. Long Island loves cars: hot rods, customs, muscle cars, and classic cars. We are fascinated with antique fire apparatus and old motorcycles. Long Island Cruizin' for a Cure leverages this fascination. Now in its tenth year, with 600 cars, this event attracts, screens, and educates more than 3,500 men about prostate cancer. 

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Understanding The Value In Medicare's Physician Payment Data Dump

Apr 14, 2014, 9:24 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

New Jersey Patient Care

A 35-year battle is over and the taxpayers have won: We have the right to know how much physicians receive in Medicare dollars in exchange for providing our care. But now that the Centers for Medicare and Medicare government has released data on $77 billion in Medicare Part B payments to providers during 2012, what do we really know—or have—that we didn’t have previously? Information alone isn’t knowledge or, for that matter, insight.

For consumers, the slew of raw data ultimately may be useful if it can be packaged into applications that help them compare the way physicians practice—as the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology now proposes in a newly announced challenge. Private payers, such as insurers, may also find the Medicare data useful, as they can the information to better understand the practice patterns of providers they include in their networks.

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Entrepreneurs and Underserved Communities: StartUp Health's New Accelerator

Feb 18, 2014, 8:00 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini

Members of the public stand at tables at a polling center, signing in to vote and have flu vaccinations

The past few years have been marked with a surge in health care business accelerators—programs that provide support to help health care entrepreneurs develop their ideas and raise initial funding. In tracking the success of these innovation hubs, we realized something was missing.

On the complex journey of taking a health care idea to market, most entrepreneurs aren’t seeing underserved communities—the people and the providers who serve them—as target markets. The result is that health care innovations are passing by some of the communities that could benefit the most from innovation. But what if we could help entrepreneurs see these patients and their providers as a viable market? What if we could make it easier for health care businesses to design solutions for the needs of our most vulnerable populations?

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With Project ECHO, the U.S. Army Takes a Team Approach to Combating Pain

Feb 11, 2014, 11:30 AM, Posted by Pioneer Blog Team

RWJF grantee Project ECHO is helping the U.S. Army treat service members all over the world who are suffering from chronic pain–a huge, complex, and growing problem for the military. Project ECHO is a collaborative model of medical education and care management that dramatically expands the capacity of primary care clinicians.

The lack of pain specialists in remote areas has been part of the challenge.  Now, primary care providers, such as family doctors and nurse practitioners, are learning to fill this void through Project ECHO, bringing an integrated, holistic approach to pain management that includes massage, acupuncture, biofeedback, and yoga.  At ECHO “boot camps,” specialists and primary care providers learn how to work together as a team.

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