Community Impact: Using Patient Data to Measure Program Success

As I am sure we all have heard over the past few years (or maybe much longer), we need to demonstrate the results of our programs and tell our organization’s impact story in order to update our board, grow our donor base and develop new programs.  But for so many different fields within the social good space, this can be a challenge because results and data are not something that is a normal focus of their work. That is where the healthcare sector is different.

Within healthcare, data and results are at the forefront.  It is how a provider knows if their treatment is working. However, the struggle for many in the healthcare space is taking the data we have (usually medical or case notes) and translating it into socially-focused results and impact, while protecting patient’s HIPAA rights. For example, how does a hospital, health system or community health program demonstrate its impact within and on the community without violating patient rights?

The way to track and communicate impact is to shift from tracking activities of your programs and start tracking the behavioral or social change RESULTING from those activities. Think about it as an IF – THEN relationship between a major project activity (critical treatment/ program step) and the behavioral change (results) that defines success for that activity.

Also, remember that change happens over time or along a continuum and not every participant of your program will achieve the same level of change or impact.

For example, perhaps your hospital is funding a clinic for low-income individuals and you want to track results from the activities performed at the clinic:

Continuum of Change Program Action / Activity Result or Behavioral Change Program #s
Connect Patient comes into clinic for appointment Patient becomes aware of potential health issue 1,000
Connect Patient is told of options and additional clinic resources to help them address health issue Patient accesses appropriate clinic resources to prevent or address health issue 750
Improved Patient accesses additional clinic resources to address issue Patient actively uses clinic resources and/or prescribed regimen 600
Change Patient is seen again and/or tested again Patient confirms clinical improvement via tests, self-reporting or lifestyle adjustment 520

Yes, this is a simplified example, but you can see that if you take these behavioral changes and quantify them (program numbers), then you can begin to talk about the impact of your programs without giving out specifics about your clients’ health. For example, now instead of saying the clinic sees and treats 1,000 low-income patients annually, this clinic can now talk about its impact by saying something like “During the current year, 69% (520) of the low-income patients who are accessing our clinic resources to address or prevent a health issue have confirmed a clinical improvement by using the prescribed regimen or resources offered.”

And as you start tracking behavioral changes and results, this data set can then be applied to other organizational or community data to determine the short and long-term effect of your organization and its programs.

So now you are probably asking, why do we need to do this when we have so much else on our plate?  Here are just a few ways that tracking results and impact will help your organization continue to deliver on its mission:

  1. Fundraising & development efforts with institutional funders: Leveraging and integrating results into all funding opportunities:
    • Helps identify funders who are aligned with your mission
    • Ensures no mission creep gets into funding opportunities
  1. Program Development: Understanding the impact of your program activities can help foster collaboration which can lead to deeper results for those you serve:
    • Development of new specific health issue services based on data being tracked both within your organization and the community
    • Find out who is solving ancillary social or health problems and see if you can work together to solve a larger problem
    • Approach funding opportunities together to demonstrate the collaborative nature of your organization and your desire to ensure your participants get the deepest results
  1. Organizational Growth: Communicating and celebrating your impact story can help you attract new donors and volunteers, engage staff, and attract talent because everyone likes to know that what they are contributing to is making a difference

Bottom line – if you are not focused on what is different (results), then how do you know if your program is working and if you are on track to achieve your organizational mission?

Please join the impact conversation and tell me how your organization tells its impact story.