“Hot Spotters” helping hospital regulars

Michael Melkonian
Contributing Writer

Five female VCU students were selected as one of ten teams from universities nation-wide to participate in the Association of American Medical Colleges “Hot Spotter” project this fall. Photo by Julie Tripp.
Five female VCU students were selected as one of ten teams from universities nation-wide to participate in the Association of American Medical Colleges “Hot Spotter” project this fall. Photo by Julie Tripp.

A team of female VCU students will undertake a massive challenge this fall — to unearth some of the root causes for the failing American healthcare system.

VCU was one of only 10 teams in the country chosen to participate in the Association of American Medical Colleges “Hot Spotter” project. The five students will partake in a six-month learning collaborative to help determine why, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, only about five percent of the U.S. population accounts for almost half of total healthcare expenses.

The inter-professional team of students will medically embed themselves with patients who fall within that five percent profile in an attempt to identify the underlying causes that lead to their frequent visits to emergency rooms, hospitals and doctor’s offices.  

The team includes nursing student Andrea Ramos, social work student Emily Pratt, pharmacy student Aziza Dang, and two medical students who will lead the group, Tricia Olaes and Eveline Chu. 

Pratt said the idea is to combine the different students’ perspectives to work with outlying patients who become trapped in the “revolving door” of a healthcare system that doesn’t seem to work for them.

“I think sometimes, doctors look just at the core medical needs of a patient,” Pratt said. “I really want to listen to what the patient has to say about the problems that they’re facing and learn how I can help connect them with services they need, help them identify goals and help empower them to reach those goals.”

The team submitted their proposal in March and has been attending webinars with students from the other selected universities, including Johns Hopkins, University of Washington and Vanderbilt University, to prepare for the intervention portion of the project this fall.

Dang, a third-year pharmacy student, said the project is occuring at a time when everyone is trying to find the best way to remodel the current healthcare system.  She said the goal for the project is to find ways to keep people out of the hospital — ultimately saving money for both the patients and the system.

A challenge the group originally faced was finding patients who are receptive to months of personally invasive participation in the project.  In their search for four or five patients for the project, Dang said they initially had a hard time navigating the legal issues stemming from students seeking access to protected health information.

After the project gets into the intervention stages in September, Chu said that success could be as simple as gathering useful information and helping to spread the findings to hospitals across the country — eventually leading to a better use of valuable health-care dollars. The project ends in December.

For Dang, success can come on a deeply personal level as well.

“The best outcome for the project would be for the patients that we recruit and coach in navigating the health-care system and their health needs to feel empowered, like they’re not alone and being lost in the cracks of this giant healthcare system machine,” Dang said.

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