How to Successfully Conduct a Virtual CHNA

How to Successfully Conduct a Virtual CHNA

Unprecedented Times Call for Unprecedented Community Health Needs Assessment Processes

By Lee Ann Lambdin

Every three years, non-profit hospitals, and many for-profit hospitals, take part in a months-long process called a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA). A CHNA is designed to identify the community’s greatest health needs before they develop an action plan to address them. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many hospital officials have been forced to adjust their approach to collecting and sharing CHNA data - introducing virtual CHNA gatherings to their mix. While it‘s not ideal to complete an entire CHNA remotely, thankfully it is possible. Stratasan had the opportunity to perform three fully remote CHNAs in 2020. In this post, we share more.


The Challenge of CHNAs In a COVID-19 World 

One of the purposes of conducting a CHNA is to bring parts of the community together to focus on a common goal: assessing and improving the health of the community. By definition, this is almost impossible to do remotely. Almost. We at Stratasan have conducted over 75 CHNAs and all have included focus groups of 20 plus people, one-on-one in-person interviews, and very large community health summits, where as many as 150 people have gathered in a hotel ballroom. These are exactly the types of activities that can be challenging to do in the wake of COVID-19. As conscientious healthcare providers and partners, we would never want to put our communities at risk. So, what’s a hospital to do? Our vote is to give the virtual experience a try.

How We Do It

The fully remote CHNAs we’ve conducted were originally scheduled to have in-person focus groups, one-on-one interviews, and very large community health summits. The focus groups were changed to one-on-one telephone conversations where the community members received the discussion questions ahead of time. 30 to 45 minutes were spent with each person discussing the health needs of different segments of the community, barriers, assets, and what they think should be prioritized for improvement. This method is more time-consuming than gathering 20 people together for a 90-minute discussion, but the information is just as good as if the group was together. 

The community health summit was also virtual. While this isn’t the ideal setup,  we still managed to meet the IRS criteria of soliciting and taking into account input from persons who represent the broad interests of the community served by the hospital and identifying and prioritizing significant health needs. We gathered approximately 40 people via Go-to-Meeting for one summit, and Zoom for the other. The community health primary and secondary data were presented and then every participant submitted their three top community health needs based on the data and their experiences. We did this two ways. For the first summit, a SurveyMonkey survey was completed by everyone. The break was then used to organize health needs by topic and the prioritized list was presented to the group via PowerPoint.

For the second summit, participants sent an email listing their top needs. That information was then organized using Padlet, an online tool that simulates a virtual post-it note exercise usually performed at summits. The priorities were then added to the post-it notes on the screen and organized into categories on-screen while everyone took a break. The outcome was very similar to what would have occurred in an in-person summit. 

One of the benefits of having a summit in person is the discussion that occurs during the Q&A time and during the segment where the group brainstorms solutions to the top health issues. This interaction cannot occur virtually. Post-COVID, there will likely be pressure to gather groups together again to remind everyone of what was decided upon during the virtual CHNA, and reiterate what needs to be done to improve health in the community.

A few CHNA reminders: your CHNA implementation plan must be adopted on or before the 15th day of the 5th month after the end of the taxable year in which the hospital conducts a CHNA. It is also required to have two cycles of a CHNA on the hospital website. 

The Takeaway

Stratasan has been energized by the experience of working with our hospital partners and seeing that the CHNA process truly can be executed virtually. Given today’s health concerns, it’s critical that we’re all nimble and willing to shift to virtual engagements whenever possible. It’s been inspiring to see these hospitals band together to execute their CHNAs, fully embracing the virtual experience. The results have been as insightful and impactful as anything we’ve done in the past, during our normal face-to-face process.

For more information on how your hospital can execute a virtual CHNA, contact our team and schedule a discovery call today.

Article by Lee Ann Lambdin, SVP of Healthcare Strategy for Stratasan

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