Upstate health system joins hunt for better ways to deliver health care

10/29/2013 8:46 PM

10/29/2013 8:50 PM

Greenville Health System was officially designated an academic health center this week in what was described as a first-of-its-kind model that brings Clemson, Furman and the University of South Carolina into the fold to study health care delivery and develop ways to improve it.

Typically, academic health centers are defined as a university with a medical school, at least one health profession program, and an owned or affiliated teaching hospital or hospitals, said Dr. Spence Taylor, vice president of academics for GHS and architect of the new model.

But this “clinical university” model has the health system at its center with multiple universities partnering to focus on solving problems of health care access, quality and affordability, and improve work force pipelines to deliver better-prepared graduates, he said.

For example, he said, instead of working from the outside, Clemson scientists may be embedded in the hospital to observe how care is provided and devise ways to improve it, from reducing medical errors to breaking down barriers to getting that care.

“It’s not enough to discover breakthrough treatments for diabetes,” he said. “We have to find a reliable system of ensuring that patients have access to those treatments and use them appropriately.”

Academic health centers not only provide patient care and produce tomorrow’s doctors, they conduct the research that leads to new medical developments that benefit society, Taylor said.

Larry Dooley, vice president for research at Clemson, said the partnership will allow the institutions to leverage existing administrative structure, expertise and resources to increase research funding, recruit outstanding faculty and students, improve health care and drive economic growth in the Upstate.

And Ben Haskew, CEO of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, said the qualities that drive per capita income are education, human capital development, innovation and entrepreneurship. The new academic health center touches on all those areas, he said.

“We can’t understate what’s happening in here,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to look forward to ... opportunities for new job creation — and the kind of jobs we want — and to see growth in Greenville.”

Academics plays a critical role because medical students are the future health care providers, said Dr. Jerry Youkey, dean of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine-Greenville.

“Through our innovative curriculum, we intend to create physicians capable of leading in the transformation of the health care delivery system,” he said.

And since more and more students are expressing an interest in health careers, Furman can be part of improving health care education in the Upstate, said interim Furman University President Carl Kohrt.

“We will partner with GHS and other colleges to provide students with a wide range of learning experiences,” he said. “And that partnership promises to change the way the medical profession approaches health care education.”

In announcing the designation by the Association of Academic Health Centers, CEO Michael Riordan said GHS will be advancing patient care, medical education and research for the region, the state and the nation.

“But we can’t do it alone,” he said. “We have to have these partnerships."

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