Health Leads: Treating the Cause Not the Illness

    • August 10, 2011

Millions of low-income families seek medical care for health problems each day. But for families that struggle to meet basic needs like adequate food or housing, clinical care is only part of the solution.

While physicians and other health care providers know that a prescription for antibiotics will not keep a patient healthy if there is no food at home, few physicians have the time or resources to address patients’ needs beyond clinical care.

Health Leads, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Vulnerable Populations Portfolio grantee, is changing that.

Health Leads enables doctors to “prescribe” food, utilities assistance, housing or other resources for their patients just as they prescribe medication. Patients take these prescriptions to resource desks staffed by college volunteers who “fill” them by navigating the complex web of social services and community resources to help families access the resources they need.

By addressing the real challenges impacting low-income Americans’ health, Health Leads’ model is an important step towards achieving both better health and lower costs.

Health Leads is gaining national attention. This month, New York Times columnist David Bornstein dedicated two columns in his “Fixes” series to Health Leads, a grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Vulnerable Populations portfolio that connects people with the resources needed to keep them healthy. “If we really want to improve the health of millions of people,” he writes, “we have to address the conditions that make them sick.” Health Leads, according to Bornstein, offers a promising solution to filling this gap.