Archive for Thursday, May 13, 2010

Website strives to promote health through community

May 13, 2010

Imagine a Lawrence with greatly reduced new cases of diabetes. Or high blood pressure. Or high cholesterol.

The dream is alive for Nikki King, and she figures it actually could approach reality by this time next year — thanks to WellCommons, a new online community launched to connect the community’s health care needs with the community’s health care resources, all with the goal of improving the community’s overall health.

“Within a year, I could see chronic health conditions reduced, because people are eating better, and exercising in their neighborhoods with their friends,” said King, executive director of Heath Care Access Clinic, which helps 300 uninsured and low-income clients each month. “I would love for all of my clientele to be engaged in their neighborhoods, and the only reason they come visit me is for their once-a-year checkup.

“That would be utopia.”

WellCommons.com, officially launched last week by The World Company, owner of the Journal-World, Bonner Springs Chieftain and the Basehor Sentinel, is an online tool designed to help residents, organizations and businesses match their needs with advice, support, services and anything else that could make the community a healthier place to live.

The site allows anyone to follow, join or even create health-oriented groups, which focus on a particular topic. Among those already established and gaining participants are:

• Lawrence Runners: This group, filed under “Wellness,” includes information for “runners of all abilities and terrain.” It even includes another group for barefoot running.

• Relay For Life of Douglas County, also under “Wellness,” is for anyone affected by cancer to share his or her story and help raise money for the American Cancer Society.

• West Junior High Community Garden Project, under “Locavores,” a student-run project at the Lawrence school in which they receive job training and mentoring — and will sell produce grown in the garden during the summer, and use garden produce in the cafeteria in the fall.

All such groups are available for review by anyone, and anyone who wants to participate can sign up. Even better: People can create their own groups to foster conversations about anything that can help improve health, said Jane Stevens, director of online strategies for The World Company.

The site serves as a community-building tool — akin to a local Facebook for health — that is monitored by journalists but includes input from anyone in the community. Karrey Britt is the main reporter for WellCommons.

“We, as journalists, aren’t in a position to say how a community should solve its problems,” Stevens said. “We want to facilitate the conversation and help the community achieve better health, sooner.”

Participants must use their real names, and therefore are expected to stand behind their contributions regarding event announcements, resource referrals, support suggestions or anything else shared with a group, Stevens said. Group members, then, can make meaningful connections and build partnerships to move forward.

Social media applications, including Twitter, are built into the site, and The World Company is planning to add “goals applications” designed to help groups get to where they want to go.

An example: LiveWell Lawrence may want to see 10 miles of bike trails added in town. The organization could establish a timeline, and set a “1-2-3-4-step process” for getting there, with appeals for community support along the way, Stevens said.

Instead of reporters writing about what people want, and then watching to see what happens, people who manage content and contribute to groups on WellCommons can decide what they want and then work together to get there.

“The Web is a solution-based medium,” Stevens said. “You can use the tools here to set goals and solve some problems.”

King already is seeing progress. People are signing on to follow Health Care Access Clinic — a group under the “Nosurance” topic — and she plans to install a new computer in the clinic’s lobby at 330 Maine, for patients to use.

The computer’s home page will be WellCommons.com.

“This format, this platform, is about connecting and collaborating,” said King, who serves on a WellCommons advisory board. “It’s about health goals for the community, and how agencies and individuals can work better together to have our own, personalized health care reform.”

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