Physicians receive federal innovation grants

With support from the health system reform law, 26 projects aim to reduce health spending through decreased utilization and improved primary care access.

By — Posted May 17, 2012

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Physicians and other health care professionals will be developing medical homes, employing health information technology and taking various other measures to boost access to primary care under the first series of innovation grants announced by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on May 8.

The CMS Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation issued 26 grants totaling $122.6 million as authorized under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, with an aim toward reducing health spending by $254 million over three years. The projects will involve the collaboration of physicians, hospitals, nurses, pharmacists, technology innovators, community-based organizations and patient advocacy groups in urban and rural communities, according to CMS.

One of the award recipients, University Hospitals Case Medical Center’s Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, known as UH Rainbow, will use its $12.8 million grant to implement a “Physician Extension Team.” The PET model is a combination of programs to improve the health care of roughly 68,000 children on Medicaid with high rates of emergency department visits, complex chronic conditions and behavioral health problems, as well as children with other insurance in several counties in northeastern Ohio.

This seed money “will allow us to have a sustainable program in place” that should continue after the initial three funding years, said Andrew Hertz, MD, medical director for the UH Rainbow Care Network and an assistant clinical professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland. The program will engage at least 120 primary care physicians in what Dr. Hertz calls a communitywide effort.

In addition to education and training support to primary care practices, the PET program will provide 24/7 access to nurses and physicians who will provide advice, referrals and care coordination to patients in their homes through telephone triage, telehealth facilities and instant alert devices, according to a statement from UH Rainbow.

Teams of health care professionals in another part of the program will offer support to primary care practices to provide their patients with medical evaluations, home-based assessments, and mental health and social services.

Through these efforts, Dr. Hertz said savings will be achieved by decreasing ED and hospital utilization. The program is projected to save $13.5 million, but it will take at least several years to determine the actual savings, he said.

Among the other award recipients is Emory University in Georgia, which is aiming to save more than $18 million over the three-year grant period by collaborating with area health systems to train health professionals as well as using telehealth technologies to link critical care units in rural parts of the state to critical care doctors in Atlanta hospitals.

The Courage Center in the Minneapolis-St. Paul metropolitan area is receiving $1.7 million in grant money to test a community-based medical home model to serve 300 adults with disabilities and complex health conditions.

More information about the innovation center grants is available online (link).

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