Developing Smart Communities to Solve Health and Socioeconomic Issues
Life on the coast of South Carolina is, in many ways, idyllic. The scenery here is the stuff vacation postcards are made of–white sand beaches, rolling Atlantic waves and palm trees swaying in the sun. There’s a reason more than 14 million people visit Myrtle Beach and the surrounding area each year. This is truly one of America’s most beautiful places.
“We believe this enhanced exchange of information will help us improve quality, lower costs and, in the long term, improve the health status of our community”
Those of us who are fortunate enough to live here year-round know we are blessed. But we also know there are significant challenges that rest just below our community’s scenic surface. As a physician and Senior Vice President and CIO of Tidelands Health, our region’s largest health care system, I am particularly focused on the health and socioeconomic issues facing our communities.
More than 26 percent of Horry County (home to Myrtle Beach) residents are uninsured–the second-highest percentage of uninsured residents in the state. The percentage of uninsured in neighboring Georgetown and Williamsburg counties is 22 and 23 percent, respectively. In addition, the city of Georgetown was recently named the poorest town in South Carolina, with a poverty rate of nearly 22 percent. The region also faces startlingly high rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic health conditions.
Our not-for-profit health system operates three hospitals and nearly 50 outpatient locations serving our communities, so we are on the front lines of these socioeconomic battles. To better address these challenges and to fulfill our mission to those we serve, we are pursuing the development of what I call ‘smart communities’–communities where health care providers, government, education, private businesses and individuals work collaboratively to leverage technology and public-private partnerships to improve not just health status but also overall quality of life.
Chief among these efforts is our development of OneCare, a shared community health record. Recently, we announced a partnership with Boston-based eClinicalWorks to develop a next-generation electronic health record. When completed in 2017, OneCare will seamlessly connect records across all Tidelands Health locations via a cloud-centric platform. OneCare will allow us to concentrate on workflows and efficiency in clinical delivery, while supporting process re-engineering with digital workflows. Ultimately, the system will support the free-flow of information across our entire enterprise.
We believe this enhanced exchange of information will help us improve quality, lower costs and, in the long term, improve the health status of our community. OneCare is also an investment in the economic health of our region. eClinicalWorks has deployed a team of professionals who are living and working in our region during the platform build–a decision that is having an economic ripple effect on housing, recreation and hospitality services in the community.
In addition to OneCare, we’re leveraging technology in other ways to help us prevent and combat chronic disease in our region. At our Tidelands HealthPoint Center for Health and Fitness, our region’s only medical fitness center, we’re using predictive modeling to identify area residents at high risk for pre-diabetes or diabetes. We are then directing targeted education efforts to those individuals, steering them into a prescriptive exercise program called Stronger Through Movement. This is the epitome of population health management–identifying at-risk individuals before disease develops or progresses and directing them into a low-cost intervention. We’re already seeing tremendous physician and consumer buy-in for this initiative, and we are tracking health care utilization to determine what impact we are having on health status and expenditures. We believe the long-term impact will be significant. We are also investigating the feasibility of incorporating wearables into this medical fitness program.
Of course, not all of our outreach efforts are high-tech. One of our most significant collaborative efforts is the Tidelands Community Care Network, a public-private partnership of 32 communities agencies working together to address health disparities in the region. Since 2012, Tidelands Community Care Network, with funding from The Duke Endowment, has helped nearly 1,200 individuals by providing care management, access to primary and specialty care, referrals for behavioral health care, transportation assistance, chronic disease management and more.
We’re even partnering with local organizations and individuals to improve bike paths in our region–funding advertising of existing bike paths and working to incorporate new bike paths into our existing and future campuses.
All these initiatives, from the high-tech to the high touch, are essential components of our commitment to smart communities. We are confident this approach is improving the lives of those who call the Tidelands region home–as well as improving the health of the region itself. At Tidelands Health, we are guided by a shared, singular purpose–‘Better health begins here.’ Today, technology and collaboration are helping us fulfill that purpose as never before.