Some patients in rural areas miss weeks of work because the surgical treatment they need isn’t available in their hometowns. Some parents in low-income families have exponentially growing child care bills due to spending time in Seattle being treated for diseases that their local hospitals aren’t equipped to treat. UW Medicine received $5 million this year, with up to $30.2 million over the next four years to help solve these problems.
UW Medicine was recently named one of 39 health care providers across the nation to be included in the Transforming Clinical Practices Initiative, an initiative through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to find ways to reduce the cost of health care and give patients better access to information.
“We care for patients from very far away and they often have limited resources in their communities,” said Dr. Heather Evans, an associate professor of surgery at UW Medicine. “They may not have a major medical center that supports their needs.”
“[CMS] created an innovation center out of Medicare essentially,” said Dr. David Flum, UW Medicine professor of surgery. “It gives about a billion dollars per year to organizations to help create a more modern health care system: one that works better for patients, delivers more effective care, does it more efficiently.”
Flum said UW Medicine’s goal with this funding is to deliver better health care across the Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho (WWAMI) region and to create a culture of continuous learning among the health care professionals in those environments.
One of UW Medicine’s priorities for this funding is to provide better care through increased communication between treatment centers. One way they’re doing this is through the mobile Post-Operative Wound Evaluator (mPOWEr) project, a Biomedical Health Informatics initiative that plans to close the gap between the care a patient receives at UW Medicine and further treatment from a primary physician in the patient’s hometown.
“The CMS award is not just money to keep us going,” Evans explained. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for us to move mPOWEr out of the initial pilot stage into multiple implementations across initially UW Medicine and then on to this practice network collaborative.”
mPOWEr creates a “diary” of a patient’s surgeries. Physicians can access this diary through a secure database and see images and descriptions from various phases of that person’s illness to understand their condition from the time of treatment to the present.
Evans said many patients come to Seattle from far away for an operation, but when they return to their local physician after surgery, they have little communication with their urban surgeon. Currently, primary physicians and surgeons can speak over the phone about a patient’s condition but Evans believes mPOWEr technology can foster better communication and ultimately better care. One way of doing this is through the shared photos of a patient’s surgery and healing process.
“We feel like this idea of care coordination for patients that are very remote to the university is one way that we’re going to really be able to make a difference,” Evans said.
Flum said he’d also like to use this grant to encourage a “learning” health care system, where physicians are constantly looking for better methods of treatment.
Dr. Danielle Lavallee, a research assistant professor in the UW Medicine department of surgery, is working on an initiative to gather data from current patients and use it to see how physicians can learn from these patients’ experiences and create better care for the future.
“We hope to give physicians the ability to look back at the past 100 patients they’ve operated on and see both how people are doing before and after [surgery] and how we can use that information to inform clinical decisions,” Lavallee said.
The three physicians had similar sentiments; they were excited for the innovative opportunities this grant created and hopeful for the future of patient care that UW Medicine is pioneering.
“[This initiative] is addressing a really challenging problem: how we provide better care that’s cost effective, efficient, and respectful of patient’s needs and goals,” Lavallee said. “Opportunities like this don’t come along often [and] it speaks for the people who are really trying to transform care. It’s going to be a great opportunity and it certainly highlights the excellence of care that UW is known for.”
Reach reporter Megan Herndon at email@example.com. Twitter: @megherndon