How this patient advocate helps ilumed boost health equity

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By: Stephanie Higginbotham, SVP of Clinical Services

Healthcare is a team sport. It takes a group of people working together to make positive change. That’s the intention behind the new ACO REACH model, an effort to promote innovative healthcare delivery to underserved Medicare communities. At ilumed, we’re proud to be one of the few select organizations chosen to participate in this new model focused on advancing health equity.

We see ourselves as servant leaders focused on compassionate healthcare. To do our best work as individuals and a team with our network providers and for our patients, we need outside advice and feedback. That’s why we have a patient advocate on our board who helps us focus on our goal to heal healthcare.

What is a patient advocate, and why are they important to health equity?

Ilumed’s patient advocate sits on our board of directors, serving as the representative and voice of our patients. Our patient advocate helps us review what we’re saying to patients and how, weighs in on how we serve our patients and gives us new perspectives to consider so we can provide the most equitable healthcare possible.

Who is ilumed’s patient advocate, and what do they do to support health equity?

Our patient advocate, Deborah Azcuy, is also an ilumed patient with Dr. Margarita Vendrell. Deborah helps us and our providers better address social determinants of health such as food insecurity, transportation, financial strain and a lack of healthcare education. Here’s how Deborah describes her work: “It’s really recognizing, identifying and providing solutions to the disparities that exist in all aspects in healthcare. And that those disparities can happen because of geographic reasons where folks live, their education, their financial circumstances and their cultural platforms.” Deborah served as a beta tester for our health-risk assessment tool that helps ilumed and providers identify barriers patients experience so we can provide services and support to help mitigate those challenges.

What makes ilumed’s patient advocate special?

Deborah brings decades of patient advocacy experience to ilumed’s board of directors. Prior to retirement, she worked as a social worker in the ICU of the Mayo Clinic. She saw firsthand how patients can fall through the cracks of the healthcare system and how that can be prevented with value-based care. Now that she’s retired, she spends much of her time volunteering with various healthcare-focused organizations addressing food insecurity, transportation assistance for legal immigrants to appointments and primary and specialized care for uninsured workers. Deborah’s experiences directly influence her perspective as an ilumed board member. “I saw the need for transportation to and from medical appointments, which is one area ilumed focuses on. I also really understand the notion how food deserts can be part of social determinants of health.”

She brings a unique personal history to her work with ilumed. Her late husband, who was originally from Cuba and a doctor himself, suffered from Alzheimer’s. He began speaking more in his primary language, Spanish, as his disease worsened. Deborah wanted to ensure he had a Spanish-speaking provider to care for him. “I wanted to find a doctor that could relate to him in a cultural way,” Deborah says. Dr. Vendrell was an incredible doctor to her late husband. Deborah says “He had connections with all kinds of other physicians that we tried as his primary care doctor. The person that worked out to be the best was Dr. Vendrell. I think a lot of it was the cultural component and the language, in addition to her great skills as a physician.” Convinced by Dr. Vendrell’s quality of care, Deborah switched her own primary care from the Mayo Clinic to Dr. Vendrell.

Why does ilumed’s patient advocate believe in ilumed and the ACO REACH model?

“I’m quite impressed with the depth and breadth of the ilumed board as servant leaders,” Deborah says. She also appreciates the ACO REACH model’s focus on health equity, especially with social determinants of health. “Providers need to recognize how health equity and social determinants of health affect a patient’s care and outcomes.” “You need to find a provider who will be the captain of your ship. Otherwise, you won’t have continuous, proactive care. ilumed works to identify and support those physicians who believe in being the captain of the ship.”

Get the wrap-around support your patients and practice deserve to foster health equity with ilumed. Contact us today.

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