Q&A: The Health Care Hero Who Coordinates Patients’ Care From Their Homes
When we talk about medicine and health care, it’s often within the symbolic confines of a hospital or clinic — that is where it’s traditionally distributed, after all. But for some populations, that care needs to extend beyond hospital walls to ensure it’s accessible, optimal and efficient.
Dipal Patel is a trained social worker who aids this initiative as a community based health manager for Virtua Health and the Virtua Accountable Care Organization. Every day, she visits patients with chronic disease to act as a resource, developing individualized care plans and conducting comprehensive assessments. Then, she liaises with nurses, physicians and health care providers to make sure that plan is put into action.
Since Patel is always on the road, she drives a Subaru Forester so there’s never any doubt whether she’ll be able to reach her patients. Plus, the trunk space means she can load up her vehicle with pertinent work supplies so she’s ready in a pinch. To learn more about her career as a community based health manager, keep reading below.
What led you to pursue a career as a community based health manager?
I come from a family of health professionals. My parents have been an amazing example of [being] nurturing and caring for my siblings and me. I have three sisters: one is a pharmacist, one is an optometrist and another is a nurse. It is natural that I wanted to be a caretaker too. This career is a perfect fit for me and that’s why I pursued it. In addition to my family influence, I am also naturally driven to want to help people, and this is why I became a social worker.
What has been the most exciting aspect of your position?
The most exciting thing about this position is that it is new and cutting edge. Health care in this country is rapidly changing and evolving. It feels wonderful to be part of that change. The Virtua Accountable Care Organization is so unique [because its] team of community based health managers are made up of social workers and nurses [who] collaborate with physicians and health care providers in any and all fields of practice to ensure our patients get the care they need.
Which model Subaru do you drive?
I drive a 2013 Subaru Forester.
From which dealer did your purchase your Subaru?
I purchased that car from Miller Subaru in Mt. Holly, NJ.
How has your Subaru made your life easier?
My Subaru has made my life easier in so many ways. With my previous car I didn’t have enough space in the vehicle to haul things if I needed. There is plenty of space in this car. It makes work easier for me too. Since I work in the community and meet my patients where they are, both emotionally and physically, the car gets me to and from on a daily basis. I even have a large tote bin in the back of my car that I use to carry my resource materials. This way when I am out seeing a patient, I have everything I might need with me. Even with the tote in the back, I still have room for other things such as groceries or the occasional bags from a trip to the mall on the weekends. Since I spend so much time in my vehicle for both work and pleasure, it means a lot that my car is safe and reliable.
What are some of the challenges you face in your line of work?
The community based health managers I work with collaborate so well and I can see how this translates in my being able to assist patients. This position allows me to interact with my patients on the most personal level. I see them in their homes, at their doctor appointments, with their families, in their own environment. By being able to interface with patients this way, it lets me develop a bond with them. I help them and become a part of their lives and I cannot imagine anything more rewarding.
As with any position, there are always some challenges. The most challenging thing about this line of work is that there are never enough resources. My patients come from various walks of life and live in communities that are also diverse. While some have all the resources they need, others are left scraping by or without. My coworkers and I spend a lot of time researching what it available [and] can be utilized to help the patient. We are always looking for resources such as financial help, assistance with transportation, housing, medication affordability, really anything and everything that is a barrier to help our chronically ill, vulnerable patients have a fighting chance. Our Mission at Virtua is to help you be well, get well, and stay well.
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This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.This is a paid partnership between Subaru and Philadelphia Magazine's City/Studio