What is a Needs Assessment? (And Why They’re Important for MIH-CP)

If you’re interested in starting a mobile integrated healthcare (MIH) program, you may have heard about a needs assessment. What is a community needs assessment, and why is it important?

A needs assessment is like a community health survey. The needs assessment will compile gathered data to answer a fundamental question: what does this community need most right now? In some areas, this is required before a health program can begin. In other areas, the needs assessment provides helpful reconnaissance for a new or revamping health program. 

If all that sounded a little vague, don’t worry. As you read on, you’ll understand what a needs assessment is and why it is so vital for mobile integrated healthcare-community paramedicine (MIH-CP). 

Needs Assessment for MIH: A Simple Definition 

A community needs assessment is precisely what the name implies: an assessment of needs. It ensures that the most critical health problems are addressed in healthcare. The needs assessment ensures that there are no wasted resources. 

For example, an ambulance service wants to start a community paramedic program that addresses homelessness. This is a great idea, but first, the ambulance service needs to ensure that homelessness is at a level that warrants the dedication of an entire program. 

It could be that the area needs more care for chronic ailments, and the only way to know this would be to compile the data, talk to the people, and dig deep into the information. 

Let’s talk a bit about how communities perform needs assessments. Then, we’ll discuss why a needs assessment is essential to a thriving community health program.

How Do You Perform a Needs Assessment? 

The mechanics of how a needs assessment is performed from area to area and institution to institution can vary significantly. For instance, a large hospital must conduct a much larger needs assessment than a small clinic. 

How do you initiate a needs assessment? The best place to start might be contacting a state EMS or health office and asking for guidance. Some states may require a needs assessment, and some may not. Also, you may be able to contact the hospital and get some information from them. 

Here are some ways information is collected during a needs assessment: 

  1. Town halls/conversations with community members. Connecting with the general population in the community is an excellent way to get a general idea of what issues are bothering people.
  2. Focus groups. After uncovering some common issues, focus groups can help hammer down more about these problems and who they impact most. 
  3. Surveys and polling. Surveys can help provide some inside knowledge of people’s thoughts about their community and health systems. 
  4. Demographics. It’s essential to know more specifics about who your program will be reaching. Does the health problem exist in older adults? Teens? Infants? 
  5. Specific health data. Finally, particular data should be collected on the various health problems affecting a community. 

As you can see, a needs assessment starts broad and then moves to a narrower focus. If you’d like, you can read the CDC’s take on the health assessment. 

Why Does Mobile Integrated Health Require a Needs Assessment? 

Now, let’s discuss why mobile integrated healthcare benefits from a good needs assessment. For those considering starting a new mobile integrated health program, an assessment will start them on the correct path. 

Here are the reasons a need assessment is essential: 

  • To ensure need 
  • For better planning 
  • As a readjustment 
  • To save funds 
  • To make better pitches and better connections 

Let’s look at these things in more depth. 

The Ensure the Need for Mobile Integrated Healthcare 

There are many programs out there that have the best intentions in mind; however, good intentions don’t always equal great programs. 

As we mentioned, starting an entire program for something that doesn’t present a significant health problem is an issue for several reasons. First, for obvious reasons, sustaining a program that isn’t meeting a serious need will be hard. 

Second, getting partners on board is hard when they don’t see that the program will meet a clear need. In the following sections, we’ll discuss these things in more detail. 

Needs Assessments for Better Planning 

After establishing a need for the service, a needs assessment will help get the program off to the best start. Let’s look at an example. 

If a community would like to launch a mobile health program that addresses overdoses, then an assessment can ensure they tackle the problem with a comprehensive program. For instance, the needs assessment might reveal that, along with EMS and rehab professionals, the program should also have mental health professionals ready to respond to patients. 

As you can see, even if you already have a good idea of the community’s needs, a community health assessment will help you develop and build a stronger program. 

Now, let’s talk about how a needs assessment can help with a program already operating. 

Needs Assessment to Correct an Ailing Program

As we’ve said, good intentions don’t always lead to great results (on their own). And, sometimes, even a mobile health program with good intentions and hard work will go off track. When this happens, it’s essential to be flexible. 

Unfortunately, some people will try the same thing repeatedly, only to have the same poor results. Changing things up can often lead to a fresh perspective and new motivations. In this way, mobile health programs can use a needs assessment to reevaluate their actions. 

Perhaps there is a different problem a program should address, or maybe there is some area of your program that patients or partners haven’t been enthusiastic about. 

For redirection, a needs assessment can be a big help.

Note: not all needs assessments need to be of the same scope as an initial needs assessment. For instance, some might simply survey current residents or patients. 

Needs Assessments Reduce Wasted Funds 

Properly assessing needs can also help reduce wasted funds. There might be some places where people can afford to waste money, but MIH-CP certainly is not that place. 

As anyone knows, where the money will come from and where the money will go is always a critical aspect of starting a mobile integrated health model or community paramedic program. 

A needs assessment will help communities know precisely where the money will go. It will also allow them to decide if they need a bigger budget. If this is the case, then it would be wise to reach out to more community partners or seek MIH-CP funding in some other way. 

If you’re reaching out to another community member, having a needs assessment lays out exactly where you’re falling short and why you need extra support is helpful. Whenever people are parting with their money, they usually like to know exactly where it’s going and how it’s used. 

Let’s discuss the needs assessment and the importance of making connections. 

Needs Assessments will Help Make Connections 

As we’ve discussed, MIH-CP is a health model that relies on making solid connections within the community. The idea of connection is embedded in the DNA of mobile integrated health, so much so that MIH needs to form connections to survive. 

The needs assessment helps with connections in several ways: 

  • It helps form connections in the beginning. The initial stages of a needs assessment involve reaching out to other health leaders in the community and asking their opinions on the most pressing health issues. 
  • It shows you’ve done your homework. In the mid-stages, when you’re trying to connect with the community, having a clear report on the community’s most pressing needs will show partners that you’re serious about the program and ready to get to work. 
  • It will show you who to connect with. Partners are essential, but the right partners are even more crucial.

I hope this article has given you a clear idea of a needs assessment and why it benefits MIH-CP. Now, let’s go over some last thoughts.  

Final Thoughts on the Importance of the Needs Assessment for MIH

A needs assessment is a planning phase where health information is gathered from the community. This information could be collected through focus groups, surveys, polling data, demographics analysis, and more. 

It has the potential to help an MIH-CP program establish strong foundations, save money, and form stronger community connections (with the right people).

Contact Julota to see how their software can help you safely share and compile good data for your mobile-integrated health programs.