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AARC Gains Place at “Social Determinants of Health” Table

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March 21, 2014

Shawna Strickland

Shawna Strickland

An innovative health strategy is gaining new momentum and the AARC just sent its associate executive director-education to a major conference to make sure the respiratory therapy voice is heard as it develops.

Shawna Strickland, PhD, RRT-NPS, AE-C, FAARC, attended a two-day meeting on the “social determinants of health” hosted by the Association of Academic Health Centers (AAHC) in conjunction with the CDC and several major universities.

Non-biological issues

“Social determinants of health—or SDH for short—are non-biological factors that impact a person’s health,” explains Dr. Strickland. “Issues such as living environment, pollution, access to health care, work environment, access to healthy food, access to walking/biking paths, and other factors can affect whether a person is healthy or not.”

The idea is to address these issues in the places where people are most often found, and that means going out to their homes, their workplaces, their schools, their churches, and other locations where people normally gather to help them make positive changes in their regular environments to prevent illness.

“Some RT-specific examples include helping eliminate smoking from home/work environments, helping eliminate mold from the home, promoting smoking cessation, and educating about washing bedding/stuffed animals to reduce allergens,” says Dr. Strickland. “When we positively affect these non-biological factors, we help an entire family or community achieve a healthier state of life.”

Interdisciplinary in nature

The AAHC conference, which convened in Washington, DC, earlier this month, was specifically aimed at exploring ways to engage health professions educational programs in this concept. Making sure SDH initiatives take advantage of the entire interdisciplinary team is a key component.

“We are dependent upon our health care team members to bring their specific expertise to the table to provide comprehensive care for the patient and community,” says Dr. Strickland. “Interdisciplinary education is a huge factor in moving forward with addressing both biological factors affecting health and SDH.”

In keeping with this philosophy, the AAHC took careful pains to ensure all of the stakeholders would be represented at the meeting. In fact, Dr. Strickland says her own participation came about only after organizers realized respiratory therapy was missing from the table and specifically reached out to the AARC to send a representative.

HR 2619 fits the paradigm

In addition to looking at ways to expand the use of SDH, the conference also touched on policy barriers that are keeping the concept from moving forward. A recurring theme at the meeting was the fact that the current reimbursement framework is based on paying physicians for encounters or procedures designed to treat symptoms rather than educational sessions aimed at getting to the root cause of the illness and embracing wellness.

Dr. Strickland points out that the Medicare Respiratory Therapist Access Act (HR 2619) is designed to address just that problem.

“HR 2619 is a perfect fit with addressing SDH. If we could get RTs into the community physicians’ offices, we could start to build the relationships with the community members where they seek care on a regular basis,” she says. “We could also do more with taking our healthy message to the community centers—or church or day care center or employer—and become that trusted community member.”

Health begins now

The AARC is a strong proponent of the SDH concept and, indeed, has been working towards goals in this area for many years. Our partnership with the DRIVE4COPD  campaign, for example, is designed in part to bring screening for COPD to the workplace. Over the past year alone, we’ve coordinated events with Greyhound, Pepsi, and ATMOS Energy.

Our Peak Performance USA program does the same thing for asthma in schools all around the country.  

“When we help others learn how to ensure their living, working, learning, and playing environments are healthy, we can help improve the quality of life and perhaps prevent unnecessary hospitalizations and readmissions,” says Dr. Strickland.

For more information about SDH initiatives at the AAHC visit their Social Determinants of Health webpage.