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Expanding access to healthcare starts in the community

By Kara Hadge Prone | August 6, 2020

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It’s no secret that the United States spends the most money on healthcare among developed nations, with some of the worst outcomes. Access to affordable care is just one of the challenges contributing to this issue – and it’s a challenge that no single entity can solve alone. It will take coordination across the healthcare ecosystem to lift the barriers that stand between patients and the care they need. Improving access to affordable healthcare is one of the core tenets of our vision at athenahealth, and it’s one of the primary aims of our athenaGives social impact program. Here are just a few of the organizations we’re working with to realize this goal.

For About Fresh, good health starts with good nutrition

It was Josh Trautwein’s experience working at a community health center in Boston that inspired him to start non-profit About Fresh in 2013: He was working on programs that encouraged healthy eating, when the only grocery store in the neighborhood closed, leaving patients with a 45-minute commute to purchase nutritious groceries. “It brought into focus for me the degree to which it is really important to get healthy food into communities,” said Trautwein.

Today, About Fresh creates access to healthy food for communities through three main programs: Fresh Truck mobile markets, Fresh Box, and Fresh Connect. Fresh Truck mobile markets visit neighborhoods with demonstrated food insecurity, returning on a regular schedule. Many of their customers receive public benefits through EBT cards, which often don’t provide enough money to purchase healthy food. Through the Fresh Connect program, About Fresh enables health systems to cover the cost of healthy food for patients at grocery stores and restaurants through its pre-paid debit card and analytic platform.

A $50,000 grant from athenaGives supported a series of pop-up Fresh Truck events across Massachusetts. The pop-ups were held outside federally qualified health centers in parts of the state where Fresh Truck doesn’t usually travel to, staffed in part by athenahealth volunteers, allowing the organization to expand its impact.

The proximity of the Fresh Truck pop-ups to FQHCs and other healthcare providers helps close the gap that Trautwein first spotted earlier in his career. “While food and grocery retail are really important social determinants of health, they’re really divorced from our healthcare systems,” said Trautwein. But the organization’s work is about more than just making healthy food affordable – it’s also about making it more palatable. “We know that diet-related disease and lack of access to healthy food is most severely impacting low-income communities of color,” said Trautwein, so one thing that Fresh Truck does differently is stock foods that are culturally relevant to the neighborhoods it serves.

The Fresh Connect program allows healthcare organizations to track how their patients have followed through with their purchases. Beyond the athenaGives grant, About Fresh also values athenahealth’s strategic partnership as it develops the technology side of its work. “You all are squarely in the space that we’re now attempting to work in through Fresh Connect, which is healthcare, technology, and data. And so, we’re just really, really excited to be able to tap you guys as a thought partner and as a strategic partner to help pressure test some of our work and guide how we’re thinking about the development of Fresh Connect.”

SIRUM helps surplus medication go to patients, not to waste

“There's somewhere upwards of $11 billion dollars of unused medicine that goes to waste every year throughout the healthcare ecosystem,” said Kiah Williams, co-founder of SIRUM, an organization that connects healthcare facilities with surplus medication to patients who can’t afford their prescriptions. “SIRUM is trying to reimagine what medication access looks like for low-income people in the United States.”

SIRUM’s technology helps hospitals, pharmacies, and other facilities easily understand the process of donating unused medication, and it allows health clinics and charitable pharmacies to identify sources through which to acquire that medication. “A lot of what we are trying to do is build technology that helps organizations who want to do the right thing,” said Williams. SIRUM’s platform makes it easier for donor organizations to understand the regulations in their state, reducing the red tape that can stand in the way of donating. “Like athenahealth, we have a similar vision of letting people be excellent at the thing that they are excellent at,” said Williams.

Last year, athenahealth supported SIRUM with a $50,000 grant, and employees also spent a day volunteering with Good Pill Pharmacy, a mail-order home delivery pharmacy that SIRUM helped launch in Atlanta, improving the warehouse and shelving for inventorying donated medications. For athenista Fabian Stone, who has a pharmacy background himself, it was a welcome opportunity to make an impact. “We were able to speed up their process a little bit and get patients their medication at a very cheap price. It gives you the warm and fuzzies,” he said.

Stone was joined by teammate Nadine Peever, another of the more than 1,300 athenistas who volunteered through athenaGives last year. “So many medications are thrown out every year, so to be able to reduce the waste and all the stuff that would otherwise end up in a landfill is great,” she said. “I got into healthcare to essentially save the world. Knowing we’re partnering with organizations that are actively looking to make a difference is amazing to see, and it kind of restores your faith in humanity.”

Free technology lets the Shifa Clinic focus its resources on patients

When Dr. Reshma Khan founded the Shifa Clinic in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, in 2012, it operated just four hours a week, providing gynecologic care. Today, the multispecialty clinic runs Monday through Friday, serving patients who are uninsured and living below the poverty line, regardless of religion, gender, or ethnicity.

“I think the health disparities that we have are very important to address,” said Khan. The patients her clinic serves “are the people who are helping the community, and for them to be healthy and be able to contribute to society is essential.”

The clinic, part of the Muslim nonprofit organization ICNA Relief, is staffed by 15 volunteer physicians, seven full-time staff, and one physician’s assistant. Students, interns, and medical residents from nearby universities round out the clinic’s team, while gaining hands-on training. The Shifa Clinic is also one of more than 350 free clinics that athenaGives supports with in-kind donations of the athenaClinicals EHR.

As a physician, Khan appreciates the ease of entering data in athenaClinicals and time-saving features such as documentation templates. “Those things really help us a lot in terms of time consumption of the provider,” said Khan. Easy-to-use reporting capabilities are also crucial to keeping the clinic afloat, given its reliance on grant funding. With less manual work required, now Khan and her staff save time pulling reports to submit with grant applications. “Without athena, I don’t know that we would be able to function as efficiently and as effectively as we do now.”

The more than $55,000 worth of in-kind services provided by athenahealth allows the Shifa Clinic to focus its resources on providing patient care and other community services, such as a food pantry. “athena doesn’t charge us, it gives us free services. That’s a big benefit for the community,” said Khan. “Because of that, we can use our funds for other resources and other services, as well.”