General hospitals are contributing to health promotion and disease prevention in their communities, yet there is significant variation in such efforts, according to the results of a new study.
Church-related hospitals and hospitals that are part of health-care systems, networks, or alliances report the largest percentages for offering services such as health screenings, support groups, outreach services, and outpatient care, the study indicates. Lower percentages of the small, city- or county-operated, and rural hospitals provide wellness services to their communities.
"American hospitals traditionally have focused on acute medical care rather than health promotion and disease prevention," said lead researcher Peter C. Olden, PhD, director of the Graduate Health Administration Program at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.
"The good news is that many hospitals today also provide wellness services to the populations they serve, often in collaboration with other community organizations," said Olden. "The bad news is that hospitals do not uniformly offer health promotion and disease prevention services. Many hospitals offer only minimal services, so their communities are at a disadvantage."
Data analyzed for the study were drawn from the 1996 American Hospital Association Annual Survey of Hospitals. The number of general hospitals for each component of the study varied between 3,550 and 4,939, and all data were reported by the hospitals themselves. Almost half (47 percent) of the hospitals were non-church-affiliated not-for-profit organizations, and the others were church-affiliated not-for-profit organizations, non-federal government hospitals, or for-profit hospitals. The researchers publish their results in the April issue of The Milbank Quarterly.
At least 70 percent of the hospitals offered social work services, breast cancer screening, other health screenings, health fairs, and outpatient services. At least half of the hospitals offered nutrition programs, support groups, community outreach, and patient education services. Eighty-one percent worked with other providers or public agencies to assess the health status of their communities.
The study also found that community benefit is part of nearly all (96 percent) of the general hospitals' missions. However, only 86 percent reported designating resources for community benefit activities, and only 80 percent had a long-term plan for improving the health of their communities. A lower percentage of the small hospitals reported a commitment to community benefit, compared to larger hospitals.
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