fbpx Bringing health care literacy to the street | Harvard Kennedy School

Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick MC/MPA 2015 promotes practical health with a creative video series.

By Doug Gavel
March 23, 2016

 

If you’re not quite sure what your kidneys do, you’re not alone. And if you shake your head in confusion when your physician says she needs to aspirate, don’t fret.

Many Americans are only vaguely familiar with organ functions and medical terminology, oftentimes complicating the challenge of negotiating the byzantine U.S. health care system. Lisa Fitzpatrick MC/MPA 2015 saw a need and has since dedicated her career to improving community health literacy.

A board-certified infectious diseases physician and public health expert, Fitzpatrick trained at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta and founded the Community Wellness Collective in Washington, DC. But she found herself increasingly frustrated with government bureaucracy, inertia, and lack of creativity in finding solutions to national and local health crises. She longed to devise innovative, community-focused, and results-driven approaches to common health-related challenges, and realized that meant carving out time for herself to learn how. The Mid-Career Master in Public Administration (MC/MPA) Program was a natural fit. 

“My head is always swimming with ideas and strategies for how to tangibly impact community health,” said Fitzpatrick. “However, I spent most of my career consumed by the demands of management and leadership and rarely had the energy to be thoughtful about practical and realistic solutions. My year at HKS helped me regain the professional balance and perspective I craved. It also provided a beautiful incubator to share, validate, and grow my ideas. I was exposed to concepts and strategies in innovation and social enterprise that, coupled with my previous expertise and interests, helped facilitate the launch of my own health and wellness venture.” 

Now, she is spreading her message of health awareness through a clever video series, “Dr. Lisa on the Street,” in which the doctor interacts with everyday people about health care topics ranging from hypertension to the flu. 

"Dr. Lisa," as Fitzpatrick is called in her video series, shares the perceptions and knowledge of everyday people about a variety of common health issues.

“We—doctors—see people too often when they are sick rather than before they get sick,” Fitzpatrick said. “I hope to be a force to help people learn to value and embrace their health and wellness before they are sick and their illnesses become costly.”

“Dr. Lisa on the Street” has received an encouraging response from the community. Feedback has been positive, with people asking when they can expect the next episode and submitting suggestions for topics they’d like to hear about.

Ultimately, “Dr. Lisa on the Street” is about improving health literacy—people’s ability to understand and use health information.

“By engaging with everyday people in this way, it gets people's attention, even if only for an instant, about an important health issue,” she said. “‘Dr. Lisa on the Street’ can also help dispel health-related myths or address slight misunderstandings about health information.”

As an example, she cites a video showcasing her conversations with people about antibiotics and the flu, and the common confusion that arises because people often don't understand that antibiotics are ineffective against viruses which cause colds and flu. She goes on to give examples of other relevant topics fraught with myths and misperceptions such as Ebola, Hepatitis, interpreting medical research findings, HIV, and weight loss. 

Fitzpatrick found her Kennedy School education helped her not only develop the professional skills she needed to make a positive impact in the health care marketplace, but to grow—as a person.  

“The skills I acquired at HKS helped lead me to my current role as medical director of the Washington, DC Medicaid program. In this role, not only am I positioned to help influence health policy for the city, but as medical director I can be a powerful asset to improving community health literacy.”