Grad students study Fairview visitors

Jessie Bekker

A group of University of Minnesota graduate students is studying five frequent hospital visitors to determine if more than illness is bringing them in.
The group of law and health students, UMN HotSpotters, developed a questionnaire that aims to correlate their many hospital visits with socioeconomic factors, like whether the patients have access to transportation and their monthly income.
The group’s study is based on the idea that certain questions unrelated to a patient’s medical condition should be asked to find out if they’re able to receive medical care that would keep them out of the hospital. The students came together last year to develop their survey in the hopes of getting to the root of frequent hospital visits.
Their pilot study in the University’s Medical Center will wrap up this month, and they will broaden their pool to about 100 patients in September.
The survey is given to the five high-utilizing patients, or people who visit the hospital three or more times within six months, said Roma Patel, a team member and law and public health graduate student.
The group will analyze data from Fairview patients and adjust their survey based on the responses, medical student Alex Roseman said.
“If you identify one barrier in one patient … that barrier or burden is not just affecting one patient, it’s affecting multiple people,” Roseman said.
While working on the second study, the group plans to do more in-depth interviews with 20 patients about their everyday lives, he said.
Though the University Medical Center, Fairview, doesn’t keep track of the number of high-utilizing patients that come and go from the hospital every year, Patel said that kind of information will be in high demand as hospitals look to address the issue.
“This is very new,” Patel said. “Everyone’s just starting to recognize that we need to address issues around this particular [patient] population.”
The team doesn’t focus on patients with medical conditions like cancer, which require regular hospital visits. They instead sift through medical records for those with frequent and unexplainable visits to the emergency room, Patel said.
The survey includes questions like whether the patient has recently skipped a meal because they couldn’t afford food or if they’re at risk of losing their housing.
“It speaks to the power of taking one patient’s experience into a wider implementation so you can affect larger change,” Roseman said.
Fairview internist and the group’s faculty adviser Dr. Andrew Olson said he sees high-utilizers about six months out of the year.
Olson said working with the HotSpotters reminds him to ask patients questions unrelated to their medical condition, which he said doctors sometimes forget to do.
The Consortium on Law and Values in Health, Environment and the Life Sciences gave the group $7,000 for the study, founding chair Susan Wolf said.
Applicants are evaluated based on the potential real-world impact of a group’s research and whether it incorporates multiple fields of study, she said.
“It seems to me … that it’s an exciting idea to reach out to patients who are identified as using a high volume of health services and really find out from their own perspective what’s going on,” Wolf said.