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Clearing the Air in Louisville through Data and Design

May 13, 2015, 12:44 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

Louisville, Kentucky ranks among the poorest in air quality and highest in asthma rates among U.S. cities. A new art installation from Propeller Health shows residents real-time changes in the city's air quality, equipping them with the data to reach their goal of becoming one of the healthiest cities by 2020.

Airbare air quality installation in Louisville, Kentucky

I stand in front of an intriguing art installation on a busy street corner in downtown Louisville, KY, and visualize the invisible. It’s a bright orange steel kiosk outfitted with an interactive touch screen that allows passersby to “see” how air pollution levels change around the city in real time while also learning how these pollutants impact the severity of asthma symptoms. Called AirBare, the installation project was funded by RWJF and represents a unique collaboration between visual artists, big data analysts and local health advocates. By “popping” virtual bubbles on the screen, users find out what causes air pollution and what it will take to reverse it. This is relevant information for residents of Louisville, a city that consistently ranks among the lowest in air quality in the nation and has one of the highest rates of asthma and other respiratory conditions.

My visit to the AirBare installation coincided with a conference held in Louisville in March that brought together economists, health policy folks, food experts and, remarkably, Charles, the Prince of Wales, to examine the issue of air quality and the larger concept of sustainability in this Ohio River Valley city. The Prince, a longtime advocate for environmental issues with connections in Louisville, added star power to the Harmony & Health conference, sponsored by the non-profit Institute of Health Air Water & Soil. But there is plenty else to be excited about in Louisville. Under the leadership of Mayor Greg Fischer, city agencies have collected reams of data on air quality, health outcomes, life expectancy, income inequality, and unemployment, among many other measures. What has emerged is a far better picture of the tough environmental and socioeconomic issues impacting the health and wellbeing of Louisville’s 600,000 residents, and a serious and concerted commitment to build a culture of health.

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Nurses and Physicians Need to Learn Together in Order to Work Together

May 11, 2015, 9:34 AM, Posted by Maja Djukic

Many practitioners understand the value of interprofessional education—the challenge is to make sure all our nation’s educators and providers do.

Nurse and physicians

Imagine your grandmother or someone you love falls and breaks her hip, arriving at the hospital in excruciating pain. She desperately needs pain medication and the nurse or medical resident on duty calls a senior clinician to request it. But the clinician says she’s busy and can’t see your loved one for at least an hour. How would you feel if the nurse or resident passively accepted this response? Alternatively, what if they challenged it?

Nurses and early career doctors regularly encounter thorny scenarios like these. Unfortunately, many hesitate to challenge senior colleagues, even when a fragile patient urgently needs help. Senior clinicians may even berate perceived subordinates for challenging their authority.

At New York University, we are part of a growing movement that aims to change these pernicious patterns. Marc Triola, MD, and I co-led a project to give nursing and medical students the training they need to work better together.

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Retail Clinics Are Expanding Their Role Within the Health Care System

May 6, 2015, 3:38 PM, Posted by Tara Oakman

With convenient weekend and after-hours care, retail clinics have the potential to expand access to basic primary care and help address some non-clinical needs underlying the social determinants of health.

A CVS Retail Clinic at the corner of a street.

My husband had been suffering from a very painful sore throat for a couple of days when he finally decided to call his doctor. Just one problem: It was a Friday morning and the office was booked for the day. The doctor called back later in the afternoon and told my husband it sounded like a virus and he should simply “wait it out.” With the weekend approaching, the next available appointment—if needed—was on Monday. Rather than suffer all weekend with a raw throat, my husband followed the advice of a relative (who also happens to be a physician) and went to a clinic at our local CVS. Less than an hour later he was diagnosed with strep throat and started on antibiotic therapy he picked up at the pharmacy. By Saturday evening he was feeling a lot better.

Access to quick, convenient care on nights and weekends is one of the prime selling points of “retail clinics” based in pharmacies, groceries, and big-box retailers. With longer operating hours and no need for an appointment, these clinics, sometimes called “doc-in-a-box,” give patients more flexibility to avoid time away from work and family. Plus, a trip to a retail clinic costs about one-third less than a visit to a doctor’s office, and is far cheaper than an emergency room. Retail clinics usually accept private insurance, Medicare, and, in many cases, Medicaid; yet people without insurance or a personal physician also are using them for treatment of routine illnesses, basic health screenings, and low-level acute problems like cuts, sprains, and rashes.

New shopping list: Pick up milk, breakfast cereal, and toilet paper; get a flu shot and that weird rash checked out.

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Opening the Care Conversation through OpenNotes

May 4, 2015, 10:01 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

More than 30 health systems have adopted the practice of sharing clinicians' notes with patients, making OpenNotes more than just a revolutionary idea but a movement in health care.

Open Notes_20120530_01007

It’s a memory aid. It’s truth serum. Using it can transform relationships forever. These may sound like come-ons for the type of product typically hawked on late-night television. But in fact, they’re some of the things people are saying about OpenNotes.

OpenNotes isn’t a product, but an idea: That the notes doctors and other clinicians write about visits with patients should be available to the patients themselves. Although federal law gives patients that right, longstanding medical practice has been to reserve those visit notes for clinicians’ eyes only.

But Tom Delbanco and Jan Walker, a physician and nurse at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, have long seen things differently. Their personal experiences with patients, and inability to access care records for their own family members, persuaded them that the traditional practice of “closed” visit notes had to change. So, with primary support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, they launched what has now become a movement.

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No Time to Waste in Battle to Regulate E-cigarettes

Apr 28, 2015, 8:53 AM, Posted by Joe Marx

The CDC just released alarming data on the new rise of electronic cigarette use among U.S. teens. Unless the FDA acts now, it may get worse with each passing day which is a gamble we can't take.

If the health debate coalescing around e-cigarettes feels familiar, there’s good reason. The uncertainty and questions about this relatively new—and unregulated—product harken back to an age when it was chic for Hollywood stars to blow smoke at the screen, and cigarette brands were plastered all over race cars.  

The tobacco industry knew just what to do to entice young people, and this formula hooked millions upon millions of them and locked in a lifetime of smoking—tragically shortening lives in countless cases.

Even today, just over 50 years since the Surgeon General’s first landmark report on Smoking and Health, tobacco addiction causes a host of cancers and other illnesses. Smoking is still the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., killing 480,000 people annually and costing over $325 billion in medical expenditures and lost productivity.

E-cigarette graphic

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We Went to Oxford and Got Schooled in Primary Care

Apr 23, 2015, 9:00 AM, Posted by Maryjoan Ladden, Susan Mende

As other countries continue to spend far less on health care but perform better on measurable health outcomes, there's opportunity to learn what works abroad and apply those lessons stateside.

Oxford University

It’s a hard notion for many Americans to accept—although we spend more money on health care than any other country in the world, we are far from having the best health outcomes. When you look at measures that include life expectancy, infant mortality rates and preventable illness, other countries that spend far less than the U.S. perform better. But in many of these countries people of all ages and socio-economic status are able to easily access primary care that is comprehensive, patient-centered and rooted in local communities.

One of our goals as program officers at RWJF is to look beyond our borders to identify promising practices that might be incorporated into America’s health care system. Last fall we traveled to Oxford, England, to learn first-hand about promising primary care practices in Chile, England, the Netherlands and Canada—all high and middle income countries that spend less on health care yet have better outcomes than the U.S. We attended a conference organized by the Training and Research Support Centre (TARSC), an organization supported by Charities Aid Foundation of America through a grant from the RWJF Donor-Advised Fund. TARSC provides support and training to government and civic health organizations, and the conference was the next step after its report, “Strengthening primary care in the USA to improve health: Learning from high and middle income countries.” We came away with a lot of insights from both, but were struck by several themes that were constant throughout.

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Q&A with Pau Gasol: The NBA All-Star's Health Advocacy Off-the-Court

Apr 20, 2015, 9:29 AM, Posted by Merlin Chowkwanyun

It may be NBA playoffs season, but the Gasol brothers are committed to promoting child health year round. RWJF Health & Society Scholar Merlin Chowkwanyun recently sat down with the Chicago Bulls' center to learn about his passion for health advocacy and how he's working to build a Culture of Health in the U.S. and abroad.

Gasol brothers Image credit: Joe Murphy (NBAE/Getty)

Since moving to the Chicago Bulls last summer, NBA star Pau Gasol has been having one of the most sensational seasons of his basketball career. A two-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, the new Bulls starting center is entering the playoffs as the league leader in double doubles, averaging about 18 points and 12 rebounds per game. In February, he and his younger brother Marc Gasol (of the Memphis Grizzlies) made NBA history as the first siblings to start in the annual All-Star Game: Pau for the East team, Marc for the West.

The two have been equally active off the court. In 2013, after years of work with various philanthropic associations, Pau and Marc formed the Gasol Foundation. It focuses on child health and works towards "a world where all children will enter adulthood physically and mentally equipped to live successful, healthy and productive lives." The Foundation recently launched outreach projects in two areas with severe socioeconomic disadvantage. Vida! Health & Wellness in Boyle Heights (Los Angeles) provides parents and children with instruction in physical activity, physiology, and fitness; healthy cooking and eating; and psychological wellness. L'Esport Suma in South Badalona (Catalonia, Spain) uses sports to promote human development and social cohesion among participants. It is run in conjunction with Casal dels Infants, a long-standing NGO in the region.

Pau has always been a very visible 7-foot presence—literally and figuratively—in Memphis, Los Angeles, and now Chicago, the three cities where he has played. Among other things, that included visiting patients and working with the Children's Hospital Los Angeles and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and around the world, raising awareness of refugees' plight as a UNICEF ambassador. In 2012, the NBA recognized these and many other efforts with its J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, given to only one player a season. He recently was named one of ten finalists for the NBA's Community Assist Award, and fans can vote for him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram by typing #NBACommunityAssist and #PauGasol. 

Each year, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's site complete a "'knowledge exchange" project designed to foster communication among the general public, academic researchers, and population health practitioners. As someone who grew up in Los Angeles, I cheered for Pau during his seven seasons with the Lakers but admired him just as much for what he did beyond the game. For my project this year, I wanted to interview Pau about his and Marc's plans because it seemed the Gasol Foundation's goals dovetailed with those of RWJF's Culture of Health initiative in many respects.

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Three Key Lessons from the Health Care Transparency Summit

Apr 16, 2015, 1:36 PM, Posted by Anne Weiss, Susan Dentzer

A magnifying glass lies on top of money. (Image via taxrebate.org.uk)

“There is no single more powerful concept” in transforming health care than transparency—that is, accurate information for everybody about the costs, quality, and other aspects of health care—according to former US Senate Majority Leader and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Board Member Bill Frist at the Second National Summit on Transparency in Health Care Costs, Prices, and Quality. Not only is shining the spotlight on costs and quality the key to making health care markets work, Frist said, but it’s also central to delivering the vaunted Triple Aim of better health, better health care, and lower costs. Here are our key takeaways reflecting how much transparency discussions have advanced since the first RWJF sponsored summit in 2013:

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U.S. Army Moves Closer to Achieving Public Health Accreditation

Apr 10, 2015, 12:55 PM, Posted by Pamela Russo

The U.S. Army is gearing up for public health accreditation for the first time, a development that opens the door for collaboration between military and civilian public health departments—leading to better health for all.

military soldier soluting

A decade ago, there was a common maxim heard about governmental public health departments that declared “if you’ve seen one health department; you’ve seen one health department.”

This tongue-in-cheek expression arose in part from the federalist administration of public health, which has resulted in public health codes that vary by state, and department-specific financing and structure. Additionally, this maxim reflected a fragmented and dysfunctional national system that lacked consistency across public health settings.

Today, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is working to realize a new era of public health defined by the application of strong and universal public health standards. That’s why the Foundation is a proud supporter of the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) and their efforts to establish national performance standards for public health agencies across the United States.

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Design That Heals: The American Institute of Architects Rewrites the Rules

Apr 9, 2015, 9:27 AM, Posted by Sheree Crute

The South Bronx's Via Verde, an award-winning affordable housing complex designed around equity and social cohesion, shows us a new era of healthy design is here—and it's contagious.

Via Verde (Image credit: David Sundberg/Esto)

Each winter, Raquel Lizardi and her heartiest garden club members brave the New York City cold to tend their community’s apple trees. “They are very delicate,” Lizardi says, sharing her training at GrowNYC, a nonprofit that seeks to create a healthier environment in the city, block by block. Their efforts ensure that the small orchard yields barrels of sweet Red Delicious, Gala, and slightly tart McIntosh apples for Lizardi and her neighbors in the fall.

Come spring, the group turns its attention to planting enough organic spinach, collards, kale, berries, tomatoes, other vegetables, and herbs to keep all of their tables filled with free, fresh produce.

The orchard, gardens, and grove of evergreens where Lizardi and her neighbors come together are a center of community activity at Via Verde/The Green Way, an award-winning, affordable housing development that rises above a quiet street just off bustling Third Avenue in the South Bronx. Built on a former garbage-strewn lot and Brownfield in 2012, Via Verde is now an international symbol of healthy design achievement.

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