Under a new $100,000 grant, the University of Illinois at Chicago department of emergency medicine, in partnership with All Chicago, a non-profit agency that provides resources and strategies to address homelessness, will develop a process for hospitals and clinics to share data with homeless service providers.
“Chronic homelessness is a huge risk factor for a host of disease and medical conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and cancer, but it’s also the single biggest risk factor for a significantly reduced lifespan,” says Steve Brown, director of preventive emergency medicine in the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System and principal investigator on the grant.
People who face chronic homelessness live, on average, 27 years less than the average American, Brown said, but often don’t report that information to emergency room staff.
“If we don’t know who carries this risk factor when they come into the emergency department, we can’t do our best to provide linkage to services — most importantly, getting these patients into permanent support housing,” he said.
The grant, from AcademyHealth and the federal Office of the National Coordinator, will allow Brown and UI Health’s information services department to work with All Chicago technicians to develop a way to embed a patient’s housing status into the electronic medical record. They will cross-reference patients already in the hospital’s medical records with the database of Chicago’s Homeless Management Information System, which tracks Chicagoans who are currently homeless, at risk of becoming homeless, or were formerly homeless, and the services they receive. The HMIS database is managed by All Chicago and used by more than 250 agencies and city departments.
Linking homeless patients to services to get them into housing not only improves their health, but also reduces costs for the healthcare system, Brown said.
“Homeless patients are the most expensive to treat because they are at such greater risk for so many health problems and diseases,” he said. “If we can work on their number-one health risk factor – homelessness – we have a much better chance of preventing chronic diseases and reducing overall health care costs.”
AcademyHealth is a leading national organization serving the fields of health services and policy research. The Office of the National Coordinator is the government agency responsible for the oversight and adoption of electronic medical records by healthcare organizations.
By Sharon Parmet