|Thought ranking systems were only for fantasy sports teams or yelp reviews? Think again. In a 2012 ranking of residential health, Brooklyn ranked 54th out of the 62 counties in New York State.
It’s not difficult to understand how Brooklyn has become this way. Just walking around the average neighborhood, it’s easy to see that fast food restaurants and delis vastly outnumber grocery stores and fresh green markets. The study revealed that Brooklynites have lower levels of physical activity and higher levels of obesity and poverty. “There are many more people living in poverty and, unfortunately, less nutritious food tends to be less expensive than nutritious food,” notes Dr. David Cohen Executive Vice President for Clinical Affairs and Affiliations and Senior Vice Chair of the Department of Medicine. These three factors are literally a deadly combination, as Brooklyn’s morbidity rate ranked 3rd highest in the state.
“Brooklyn’s health care system is failing its population,” states Dr. Cohen. When asked if there is a way to improve Brooklyn’s health, Dr. Cohen responded, “There are always things that can be done. Part of it has to do with public health education and making sure people are engaged in healthy practices.”
So what can be done? A large part is certainly dependent on public health initiatives, and we can see that some are working. Our level of smoking has decreased, which can be attributed to awareness campaigns. Maimonides Medical Center is also making strides to improve the health of our community. “We were the first voluntary hospital to really join the Take Care New York effort, which is a program to identify how people can engage and be healthier,” explains Dr. Cohen. “Whether it is healthy eating, screening for cancer, having a safe home, making sure mothers receive good prenatal care – this program helps patients and physicians set certain goals and track their progress.”
A major problem for many Brooklynites is actually getting the care they need. “A disproportionate number of patients are uninsured,” explains Dr. Cohen. Access to health services and even to primary care can be limited for many people. “At Maimonides, we want to make sure all individuals can be treated, so we actively assist patients in obtaining their health care entitlements. We also have a fee-scaling system, so that patients are able to pay according to their ability,” states Dr. Cohen.
Another problem throughout the borough is that health care has not been very well organized until recent initiatives. “Different health care organizations have not traditionally worked together so patient care was not well coordinated ,” explains Dr. Cohen. “It’s really time to bring that all together.” In response to this need, Maimonides joined a consortium of hospitals, nursing homes, home health providers, and insurers to create the Brooklyn Health Information Exchange (BHIX), which enables data to be shared between a patient’s various potential medical caregivers. Maimonides has also developed a health home that brings together smaller organizations so that we can mix and match services and make sure patients really get what they need.
There are also things that you can do to improve your health. It’s important to have an open conversation with your physician about your health problems, needs and goals. Here are some tips on how you can achieve them:
Get Health Educated: Think of specific questions to ask about your health condition. Write them down when you go to the doctor’s office and ask your doctor to go over them with you during your appointment.
Speak Up: If English isn’t your or your family member’s first language, it’s a good idea to inform the doctor. “Given the amazing diversity of Brooklyn, it’s really important that when a patient schedules an appointment they make sure someone at that office speaks their language,” notes Dr. Cohen. It’s very difficult to have an open and frank discussion about one’s health if you’re speaking a different language.
Get Comfortable: It’s easier said than done, but people shouldn’t be intimidated by their physicians. ”Doctors are there to provide assistance and information. Patients should ask questions until they understand,” emphasizes Dr. Cohen.