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Md. hospitals want to engage patients with new ‘Fresh Care’ website

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Citizens' Health Initiative. (file)

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Citizens’ Health Initiative. (file)

Maryland is in the midst of an unusual experiment to try to keep its citizens healthy and reduce the cost of health care by changing the way hospitals are paid – essentially giving them a financial incentive to keep people from needing their services.

But there’s a crucial piece that’s been missing: increased consumer engagement, said Carmela Coyle, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association.

In other words, Marylanders need to be made more aware of community resources that can help them stay healthy and to know their rights and how to navigate the health care system, Coyle said.

That’s where the “A Breath of Fresh Care” campaign comes in. Its website, www.breathoffreshcare.org, serves as a sort of clearinghouse of information about each of the state’s hospitals.

Users can look up any hospital and find its patient bill of rights, local programs to help manage chronic diseases and conditions, and the procedure for lodging a complaint, if needed, Coyle said.

Part of the goal was to put as much information as possible in one place, rather than asking each hospital to update or change its website.

“We created a one-stop shopping site,” Coyle said.

The campaign is a partnership between the hospital association, the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, the Maryland chapters of the AARP and the NAACP, and Young Invincibles, an organization advocating for 18- to 34-year-olds, who tend not to worry about health issues.

And it’s not just a website: The campaign is planning a series of educational forum across the state to encourage Marylanders to use the website as well as to participate in the Maryland Faith Health Network, a pilot project launched by LifeBridge Health and the Citizens’ Health Initiative, said Vincent DeMarco, president of the initiative.

That project lets hospitals – with a patient’s permission – notify that patient’s congregation when he or she is admitted to the hospital. The congregation can then arrange, as needed, to provide support for the patient during her stay and after she returns home, Coyle said.

“Hospitals are now much more engaged in keeping people healthy,” DeMarco said. “’A Breath of Fresh Care’ is all about getting consumers, whether they’re patients or not, involved in health care in Maryland.”

In addition to spreading the word about the campaign and the Faith Health Network, DeMarco said the public forums – the first of which will be held Sept. 14 – will also be promoting the upcoming open enrollment period for the state’s health insurance exchange.