Social services resource overload: How using a simple interactive map can help

Stacks of flyers ranging from local free dinners to legal services collecting in a box or filing cabinet are familiar scenes in student-run clinics (SRCs). To anyone who has worked in social services, maintaining organization and keeping up-to-date resources can be a frustrating and common challenge.

Across the nation, SRCs generally serve homeless, at-risk, and low-income populations for free or at little cost. Primarily run by medical students, SRCs also provide students with an enriching environment to improve their patient and interprofessional communication skills and actively participate in patient care. However, oftentimes medical students do not see all aspects of patient care. Although responsibilities may vary from one clinic to another, medical students typically obtain history and physicals, discuss findings with a physician, document charts, and order prescriptions and labs. Other tasks for the patients, such as finding reliable sources of food, shelter, clothing, and transportation are not the medical student’s duties and are often referred to the social services team.

This is reasonable. Due to lack of time and the presence of a social services team, it would be wise to delegate responsibility to people who are skilled in that area. However, it is difficult for medical students to avoid how pervasive additional factors such as access to food, shelter, and transportation (to name a few) influence a patient’s health outcome. Students often ask what can we do to improve these social determinants of health in meaningful ways. Although there is no easy-quick-fix solution, here is a simple plan currently used by the Lubbock Impact Free Clinic that can be integrated by any free clinic to help patients find the social services they need.

The Lubbock Impact Free Clinic first organized all social service resources into one Google Sheet. This master excel sheet contains the name, location, number, some details, and the website link of all the local services. By having all the information in one location and organizing by category, the excel sheet can be continuously updated and referred to even during patient visits.

Secondly, the Lubbock Impact Free Clinic created an interactive online map allowing patients to find services closest to them. Using Google My Maps, we could easily enter the addresses of the services and have them saved as pins under specific categories. These categories were then organized by color and number. To prevent unnecessary clutter of having too many pins on the map at once, Google My Maps allows the viewer to select and display the categories relevant to them.

Both the Excel sheet and the map were shared as “view only” links on the Lubbock Impact Free Clinic website allowing patients to easily access them at their own convenience and preventing patients from accidentally editing them. An example of our work can be seen in the above screenshots and through our lubbockfreeclinic.org website under the resources tab. Although there has been no research data collected over our work’s effectiveness, the feedback given by the social services team has been positive. The social services team and the medical student team mentioned they refer patients to the website at the end of each visit.

Few other medical schools’ free clinic websites have dedicated information to social services resources for patients. Without a single place for patients or workers to refer to, information over resources can get disorganized, outdated, or forgotten, and the quality of social services becomes largely dependent on present social workers. Unfortunately, social workers are subject to high turnover rates, and having consistent social workers who are familiar with all the resources presents with additional challenges. The Google Sheet and My Maps combination consolidates these resources for the social services team making it easy to access all and hopefully bring a little more order to that messy filing cabinet.

Adrian Falco is a medical student. 

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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