Grocery stores. Churches. Sports teams. Drugstores. If your hospital isn’t already thinking about ways to partner with these institutions to better treat the health of patient populations, then you have a lot of catching up to do.

As we’ve explored extensively here at H&HN, partnerships are the name of the game in today’s hospital world, as leaders look for ways to target new consumers in the community to keep them healthy and out of the ED. Finding the right dance partners may not be an exact science. But a new guide out of the Health Research & Educational Trust attempts to lend more exactness to the process of courting and connecting with companions.

To write Creating Effective Hospital-Community Partnerships to Build a Culture of Health, HRET officials interviewed more than 50 hospital and community leaders, looking for the secret sauce that makes each arrangement successful. Common themes that bubbled up included the importance of support from leadership, transparent communication, and aligned goals, says Heather Jorna, vice president of health care innovation for HRET, an affiliate of the American Hospital Association.

Jorna believes that any type of partnership should be up for consideration, and not just with insurers or doc groups. She pointed to one example of a Louisiana medical center joining up with a local Baptist church to devise ways for congregants to stay healthy and active.

“Honestly, what we found in the interviews is that anyone and everyone can be on the list,” she says. “There’s no wrong type of partner and, in fact, the more out-of-the-box” types of partners can often lead to more creative solutions to addressing health needs.”

Along with some of the nuts and bolts of community partnerships — defining roles and responsibilities, structuring governance, overcoming common obstacles, etc. — the guide also offers several specific examples of such outside-the-box thinking. Those include one hospital in Montrose, Col., partnering to open two mental health centers for students inside of schools. Another, in Fort Worth, Texas, teamed with more than a dozen organizations to educate parents and promote healthy family relationships as a means to reduce physical abuse and neglect.

In its research, HRET found that, while many are executing on innovative partnerships, even more were in need of ways to measuring the success of these connections. The guide also explores some of the methods hospitals are using to assess and measure how partnerships are performing, and ways to tweak them going forward.

Of course, no one size fits all, Jorna says, and each partnership should be evaluated and structured differently, depending on your community’s unique needs.  

“There is no one way to have an effective partnership,” she says. “There are many ways that partnerships can be formed, structured and sustained. No matter how they come to be, once partnerships are established, they can have a really tremendous impact on improving the health of their community.”