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This summer, I am participating in the DukeEngage in Washington, DC program, doing an internship in the city and living with a dozen other Duke students who are doing the same.  Even though this is only my second week, I’ve felt that the time I’ve spent in this program has been incredibly valuable, and I’ve already learned an incredible amount from the people I am working with and the projects they’re doing.

I’m working at the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy this summer on two different projects.  One of them is more communications/social media centered, while the other is on global health policy research.  The communications part is more straightforward and encompasses things that I am familiar with, but the global health project is an entirely different beast.  Upon beginning my first day, I was immediately plunged into a world that I realized I knew nothing about.  Providers, payers, accountable care organizations, SNFs, PCPs, and dozens more phrases, words, and acronyms hose definitions and meanings I really didn’t know were thrown at me.  After that first day I realized I had a lot of catching up to do.  Once I started reading more about these things, though, I realized how interesting and complex the US healthcare system is, and that I was really eager to learn more about it, both for my own personal curiosity and for the sake of knowing what to do at my internship the next day.

The aim of the project that I am working on is to search the healthcare systems of other countries in order to find new innovations that increase the quality and decrease the cost of healthcare, and that help reach populations that may have less access to healthcare due to living environment, socioeconomic status, etc.  Once these innovations are gathered and organized, they will be presented to healthcare organizations and hospitals across the US that want to change the current “fee-for-service” based system that currently dominates in our country.  The number of “accountable care organizations,” which are networks of hospitals, physicians, and other providers that give coordinated care to patients, has been increasing in the US.  With the creation of the Medicare Shared Savings Program, the providers in ACOs are held jointly responsible for the health of their patients, and are financially incentivized to find ways to decrease costs and improve health outcomes.  The goal of the project I am working on is to help them do just that.  One innovation, for example, used trained community volunteers to identify and help care for chronically ill patients in their community at those patients’ homes rather than in hospitals.  Another created a peer mentoring program for diabetes patients struggling to maintain their blood glucose levels.  Countless more have to do with changing payment models and providing health education services to underserved or rural populations.  The project is still searching for innovations both nationally and internationally, and along with helping find new ones, I am writing up summaries and presentations of existing ones.

I have learned so much during this first week, and through DukeEngage I have gotten to connect with others who are experiencing similar things.  Although I am in an entirely new environment working in unfamiliar territory, I have people to share in the experience with, and I am really looking forward to the next six weeks I have here.