UConn students eliminate health inequalities by screening patients for social determinants of health

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In several UConn Health clinical settings, UConn medical students and other UConn undergraduate volunteers strive to uncover the social determinants of patient health that may lead to increased risk for the patient. health or health care inequalities.

A student in the UConn Health Leaders program trains another student to properly screen for the social determinants of health in patients (Photo Image from UCHL).

Social determinants of health are the daily environmental factors of a person that can influence their health, outcomes and quality of life. Social determinants of health cover all economic aspects such as employment status or poverty level, access or level of education, access to health care, neighborhood and community issues such as lack of childcare services.

Thanks to the new community pre-professional health program called UConn Health Leaders (UCHL), two medical students developed a program and trained over 100 other student volunteers to screen UConn Health patients for any barriers to health equity. Trained student volunteers then follow up on revealed barriers to health equity, working to overcome them by advocating for patients and connecting them with the social resources they need.

The medical student co-creators of the initiative are Henry L. Siccardi, an MD / MPH candidate and Jacqueline Steele, an MD candidate in the class of 2022. A few years ago, Siccardi had the idea of ​​launching UCHL for helping underserved patients by using the time they can spend in the waiting room to help them get any resources they might need.

To screen for all social determinants of health, student volunteers, including many UConn undergraduates interested in future professional careers in health, were deployed to five outpatient clinics in UConn Health in different cities, and even virtually earlier during the COVID-19 pandemic. They use an iPad app called RedCap to confidentially collect patient responses through their Social Determinants of Health survey scouting tool.

“Our program was originally supposed to be launched in waiting rooms, but COVID-19 has hit,” said UCHL co-founder Steele, 24, of Greenwich. In the aftermath of COVID, the student-led program was initially conducted virtually over the phone and, in June 2021, resumed face-to-face patient surveys in clinic waiting rooms.

But the positive results of the program’s first virtual screening activities are already known.

The most common resources patients needed and offered by students were resource connections for employment, transportation, housing, and prescription or medical costs. In fact, from September through November alone, program volunteers made 12,516 patient screening calls. Of the calls answered, 1,240 patients consented to screening (19%), 55% of whom tested positive for at least one social determinant of health. Of the 435 patients interested in being offered resources by students, 581 resources were successfully connected and 293 patients finally accepted (50.4%) the resource help.

Students now volunteer in person at UConn Health clinics, helping people have better access to the care and resources they need.

“At first we only had 20 student volunteers, then we grew to over 100 volunteers. And we get a lot of good feedback from the patients we meet, ”says Steele. “It takes a few extra minutes to talk about these issues with each patient, but the little time really makes a big difference. “

Steele adds, “It has been truly rewarding to see how much the students are learning from this experience and also being empowered to see all that you can do to help someone’s healthcare. I hope we can continue to expand our program to meet the needs of the community even more. “

“Patients have social issues that impact their well-being and despite the presence of local, state and federal resources, they are often unaware of or cannot access this help,” explained Siccardi, co -founder of UCHL. “I think UCHL was successful because it’s basically a problem-solving group. We couldn’t have helped patients without a lot of people trusting us, and I appreciate their trust.

“These two inspiring students developed this program because they saw the need to better address social inequalities for patients,” explains Dr. Christopher Steele, assistant professor of medicine at UConn School of Medicine and educational advisor at UCHL , who also heads Health Equity. Track for the Internal Medicine Residency Program. “They did an incredible job. Not only did they create a program that tackles barriers to health equity, but they also found a unique way to directly involve our undergraduates in patient care.

He says that 80 percent of an individual’s health outcomes are in fact influenced by their social determinants of health.

“We hope that our students will enter their career field with more enthusiasm and preparation to tackle the social determinants of health that affect the health of patients,” adds Steele, educational advisor at UCHL.

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