Rx: 1 Inhaler + Heat…Supporting Preventative Health


Pharmacy Rx symbol

Pharmacy Rx symbol (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I’m sorry,” is all the doctor could say at that point. The patient would have to have surgery–an amputation…all because he didn’t have access to medical care before diabetes took over.

According to the Center for Disease Control, African Americans, Hispanic/Latino Americans, American Indians, Asian Americans, and Pacific Islander Americans are at higher risk for type 2 diabetes than the rest of U.S. population. These racial and ethnic minority groups are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes due to poverty, lack of access to health care, and cultural factors that result in barriers to preventive and diabetes management care.

Hundreds of thousands of minorities are stricken not only with diabetes, but with asthma, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia –ailments that could at times have been easily prevented with access to something as simple as a healthy living environment or access to more nutritious food.

Rebecca Onie speaks about these health care gaps in her TedTalk, titled ‘What if our healthcare system kept us healthy?’ She proposes altering health care’s focus from searching for “cures,” to advancing preventive solutions-solutions that could save lives of people in need.

Rebecca’s story starts when she becomes an Intern at the housing unit of Greater Boston Housing Hospital. After working here for many months, she realized that by the time many minority families in Boston made it to the hospital, four bus rides later, “they were already in crisis.”

Rebecca began asking doctors in Boston Medical Center this simple question: “If you had unlimited resources what’s the one thing you would give your patients?” The answers, she said, were always similar. Doctors explained that every day they were prescribing medications, antibiotics for ear infections, but the real problem was that the patient was living with 12 others in a small apartment at home…with no food. The doctor didn’t have any help or “even know where the nearest food clinic is.”

As a sophomore at Harvard College, Rebecca used this information to start a system of her own called Health Leads. In the clinics where Health Leads operates, “instead of asking patients what they need to get healthy, they ask the patient what was needed to be healthy.” For instance, the patient with asthma might be given an inhaler script, as well as a “script” for a volunteer to give the patient’s utility provider a call. The volunteer can then work with the utilities company to formulate a payment plan for the patient.  Fewer inhalers are needed in the future, leading to a true path to health.

Once we start concentrating on preventive health, we will not have to worry as much about problems like antibiotic resistance, medications like insulin for diabetics, or spend so much of our money on disability funds or Band-Aid solutions for those with chronic illness.

Rebecca ends her talk stating, “I believe that at the end of the day when we measure our health care it will not be by the diseases cured, but by the diseases prevented, it will not be by the excellence of our technologies or the sophistication of our specialists, but by how rarely we needed them, and most of all I believe that when we measure our health care it will not by what the system was, but by what chose it to be.”

As we consider the theme for Minority Health Month, “Prevention is Power: Taking Action for Health Equity,” it makes sense to consider innovative new approaches for preventive care. What do you think about Rebecca’s approach with Health Leads? Could a system like this be more widely used? What other ideas do you have that might help to bridge the gap of “cures” to preventive care?

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Dana Howell

As an Executive Assistant to the CEO and President of Campaign Consultation, Inc. I primarily work on initiatives with Very Special Older Properties (VSOP), Transit Choices, and the School of Social Work. Prior to joining Campaign Consultation, I worked as account manager for a growing medical company, interned with both the U.S. House and Senate focusing on health care and national security, and served as part of the Commerce Department for the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen where I helped U.S. companies find potential business partners in Denmark. Read more.