A person’s health is influenced by a multitude of factors, both biological and environmental. Therefore, when looking to improve health outcomes over a sustained period of time, one needs to adopt a systems-based approach and think not only about direct health care delivery, but also about broader, societal factors, which together, make up the health profiles of individuals and communities.
For example, we are seeing prescription drug overdose deaths rising at an alarming rate among young people, due to a confluence of factors but in part because previously well-intentioned but singularly focused enforcement solutions did not take a systems-based approached to addressing substance use as a matter of health. In order to reduce substance misuse and overdose deaths in our communities, the solution does not lie only in raising awareness with at-risk populations about the risks of substance misuse, but rather we have to focus on the entire ecosystem that dictates an individual’s behaviors and decisions.
A systemic approach to reducing substance misuse and overdose deaths and achieving a multidimensional quality of health demonstrates it is imperative to holistically consider socio-economic, historical, and political factors within a larger system when addressing any concern that leads to poor health outcomes and untimely fatalities.
Given the multitude of health related issues today, many of which are similar to substance misuse in scale and complexity, the Clinton Health Matters Initiative (CHMI), and the Clinton Foundation as a whole, employs systems thinking methodology in all of its programs. These programs address health as a multi-level, multi-participant system made up of many different components. It is only through systems thinking that we are able to account for both the obvious factors that are connected to poor health outcomes, such as excessive drinking or smoking, as well as the less obvious ones, such as commute time, access to grocery stores, or unemployment.
Our team at CHMI accomplishes this integrated approach by actively promoting systemic change at community, national, and institutional levels, to improve the health status of Americans and reduce health disparities across the nation. In striving to raise the health profiles of our five focus communities, we first conduct an assessment using County Health Rankings and local data on the region by identifying the many factors that, if improved, can help make communities healthier places to live, learn, work and play, such as access to care, the built environment, and community safety, education, employment, family and social support, among others. We then convene the local decision makers and key stakeholders to facilitate a consensus driven process for creating a strategic plan for health improvement that will determine how the community alleviate their health disparities and improve their health outcomes.
For instance, Harris County, Texas – one of our five focus communities – is comprised of 2.3 million people in an urban environment, with an additional 1.8 million who live in the surrounding rural region, many of whom are Hispanic. Through the application of a systems thinking approach, we have worked closely with the community to to identify some of the most impacted social determinants of health, such as access to safe transportation or proficiency in English, and where current solutions are scalable versus where some isolated interventions may be less effective and therefore should not be replicated. We help stakeholders to ask important questions that help put people at the center of the care model such as: do people know where the nearest hospital is? Do they have access to a reliable mode of transport to get there? Do they have the necessary literacy skills to read the instructions on their prescription? By engaging with groups such as early childhood development practitioners, hospital systems, transportation and government officials, we aim to enhance health outcomes by improving the individual entities that constitute the broader system, as well as helping to enhance coordination and scale solutions more quickly across sectors.
Through this wide-ranging, systemic approach, initiatives across the Clinton Foundation have the capacity to unite leadership in finding complementary solutions to health-based challenges. Our method allows us to identify the connections between different disciplines and regions of our world, in which every individual is empowered over their health and is therefore in a position to change the system for the better.
From January 25-26, 2015, in Indian Wells, California, the Clinton Foundation will be hosting it’s fourth annual Health Matters Annual Activation Summit. The Summit will showcase the Foundation’s systemic approach to health issues with specific examples from the Clinton Health Matters Initiative’s work with communities and organizations across the country and combines topical conversations, active working sessions and think tanks to highlight the leading opportunities and innovations in health advancement with the country’s foremost health and innovation experts. Tune in to watch the Summit live at clintonfoundation.org/healthmatters2015.