ESU Students Take On New Role As Health Coaches in Collaborative New Program with Pocono Medical Center
Sheila Jones, ESU student and volunteer health care coach, meets with patient Joseph Cantalupo of East Stroudsburg, Pa., as part of an ESU health coaching collaboration with the Pocono Medical Center.
Dr. Jonathan Goldner, chief medical executive, medicine and chronic disease service line for Pocono Medical Center, talks to health care coach Sheila Jones during a meeting at ESU on March 13, 2013. The session gave health care coaches a chance to discuss patient issues and outcomes.
Studies show that half of all patients leave hospitals and doctors’ offices without understanding the advice they were given and the majority don’t follow most of the instructions. For chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, too often those patients quickly end up back in the hospital.
An innovative partnership between East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania (ESU) and Pocono Medical Center (PMC) aims to improve the lives of patients and curb readmissions by training a select group of volunteer students to act as health coaches.
The ESU students – many of who are going on to health science careers – visit the patients in their homes to help them follow their doctor’s advice.
“We all know when patients leave the hospital, they want to get out of there, they want to get home and they don’t always hear the instructions very well,” said Dr. Jonathan Goldner, PMC’s Chief Medical Executive, Medicine and Chronic Disease Service Line, who approached ESU about starting the partnership after hearing about a similar program in Western Pennsylvania.
What the 12 student volunteers won’t do is practice medicine. In the fall they took a course taught partly by PMC health professionals on how to recognize signs that a patient might need medical help, what to look for in patients’ environments that might hamper their recovery and how to coach them on following doctors’ recommendations.
Goldner and ESU professors Gregory B. Dwyer, Ph.D. and Alberto Cardelle, Ph.D. said patients who might be hesitant to call their doctors with questions are more likely to tell the students about problems they may be having.
“The doctors themselves would say it’s very possible that the patient would have an easier time relating to these students because of the intimidation factor,” said Cardelle, chairman of the Health Studies Department.
Such a program is valuable to the students, who will gain insight into how to work with patients, in addition to learning lessons on privacy and medical ethics issues. So far, students taking part include those majoring in community health, exercise science, athletic training and pre-physician assistant programs. The hospital is expecting to see improvements in the patients’ health and the patients themselves are enthusiastic about having advocates at no cost to them. In addition, the initiative is designed to cut down ever-increasing health care costs by reducing readmissions.
Dwyer, professor of Exercise Science, said Medicare now tracks so-called “frequent flyers” – patients with chronic conditions who have repeated readmissions for the same types of problems.
“There is a small number of patients who cause a whole bunch of the costs,” Dwyer said. By helping diabetic patients to monitor their blood sugar and heart patients to watch their diet, exercise and medications, health coaches can put a dent in costs borne by patients, insurance companies, hospitals and ultimately taxpayers who pay for Medicare and Medicaid.
Sheila Jones, a senior biology major who will be enrolled in a physicians assistant program in the fall, is one of the health care coaches.
“We’re visiting the patients in their homes and I think that’s very important,” Jones said. “The physician sees them in their office and might not be clued into the social structure and the different living environment.”
For more information on the program or how to take part, call Dr. Cardelle at 570-422-3401