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Aug. 30, 2012 Volume 34, No. 2

School of Medicine receives its largest federal grant ever, $13.3 million

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GRANT Tom Trabue (left), ambassador chair of the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, Joanne Burns, executive director of Tiger Institute, Robert Churchill, medical school dean, and Chancellor Brady J. Deaton celebrate the $13.3 million grant. Photo by Rachel Coward


The school strives to create a national health care model

$13.3 million grant, the largest ever awarded to the School of Medicine, will push health-care information technology to the next level not only for providers but also patients. The project aims to use information technology and human relationships to create a national model for delivering health care that’s better and cheaper.

On July 26, university officials announced the three-year Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) award, which will fund the Leveraging Information technology to Guide High Tech, High Touch Care program, or LIGHT. The new technology and services could save an estimated $17 million in health care costs over three years at MU, and the program will train 420 workers and create 30 jobs, Chancellor Brady J. Deaton said.

High-tech aspects of LIGHT include computer dashboards for providers and patients, said Joanne Burns, executive director of the Tiger Institute. Physicians will be able to view medical information by individual patient, groups of patients with the same disease and all patients they care for. They’ll be able to visualize key information for a patient at the point of care. At other times, they’ll be able to reflect on their performance compared to other physicians, Burns said. These comparisons can offer physicians ideas on how to give better care.

Patients, too, will have online access to dashboards of their medical information. They’ll also receive reminders about appointments and medications, and have access to educational materials keyed to their needs. Burns said such information could help patients take better care of themselves. “It will enable patients to be proactive and work with their physicians in a way that can change the game for them.”

The high-tech dashboards will be “agnostic,” said Karl Kochendorfer, director of clinical informatics for MU’s family and community medicine department. That is, the dashboards will work with any of the rapidly growing number of electronic medical records providers now mandated for use nationwide.

The high-touch aspect of LIGHT includes training a new workforce of health care coordinators who will work with physicians and their patients, said Jerry Parker, director of LIGHT. He said this new provider type will form relationships with patients, educate them and coordinate their care. Another new type of worker is health information analyst, who will mine population-level data and look for patterns that physicians and coordinators can use to improve care.

Kochendorfer said the health information analysts will expand the team that follows patients. That looks costly, but the opposite may be true. For instance, he said, studies of care coordinators show their proactive work decreases emergency visits and possibly hospital stays. 

“If we can show that we are saving costs, then CMS will redirect some of those savings to providers, especially if we are improving the quality of the care we are delivering,” Kochendorfer said. 

“That’s value-based purchasing. They want to be able to get more quality for lower cost, and we believe that our system can provide the framework to do that.”

— Dale Smith