Intermountain Healthcare is working on a transformative model for the future of health care called population health that focuses on keeping people in communities healthy and preemptively addressing the cause of illnesses, rather than just treating people when they are sick.
As an important additional step, Intermountain is partnering with the University of Utah to jointly develop a new medical education program—the first of its kind in the United States—to be used to train the next generation of physicians in population health, which focuses on keeping people and communities healthy and addresses factors that can lead to illness and injury in an effort to prevent those from occurring.
Intermountain is investing $50 million over multiple years in the initiative which will help train and prepare physicians to not only consider a person’s immediate medical needs but also the social determinants of health that play a key role in their life circumstances that could impact health, including financial, social and behavioral issues.
“I’m proud that these two organizations are leading the nation in developing a cadre of physicians specifically prepared to deliver this innovative approach to communities,” says Marc Harrison, M.D., president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare. “Working with patients holistically will improve the health of all, most notably the vulnerable and underserved, who are too often left behind.”
Specifically, the investment from Intermountain will:
- Establish the University of Utah Intermountain Healthcare Population Health Student Scholars Program at the University of Utah’s School of Medicine.
- Provide tuition support for medical students accepted into the program. There will be 10 students in the entering class of 2021 and 2022 and 25 students in each entering class thereafter.
- Provide an opportunity for the university to seek legislative and accreditation approvals to increase the number of medical students in each class.
- Support development of a population health medical education curriculum that will serve as a model for the nation.
- Create three endowed professorships, the Intermountain Population Health Sciences Professors, and four Intermountain Population Health Endowed Chairs in the University of Utah School of Medicine. These faculty will teach the student scholars and lead research and clinical education opportunities.
The newly renamed University of Utah Intermountain Healthcare Department of Population Health Sciences will serve as the academic home for the initiative. Intermountain chose to partner with the U’s School of Medicine based on its national reputation in the field of population health and strength in developing and applying robust research methods to optimize population health outcomes.
“The university is grateful for this generous partnership investment from Intermountain,” says Michael L. Good, M.D., interim president of the University of Utah and CEO of University of Utah Health, executive dean of the U’s School of Medicine, and senior vice president for Health Sciences. “It is a tremendous recognition of the importance that integrative medical care based on population science will have in the years ahead. This approach to patient care has the potential to advance the doctor-patient relationship in many positive ways. It could lead to a metamorphosis of medical care that better addresses the emerging social and health needs of patients in the 21st century.”
Through this innovative model, Utah will train a new generation of population health-minded physicians. In turn, Utahns will benefit from their expertise. After physician scholars graduate and subsequently complete their residency training—which is often carried out elsewhere in the country—they are committed to returning as a practitioner at Intermountain Healthcare or a partner organization in one of six population health specialties.
Population health-based care centers are premised on an understanding that social determinants of health—conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play—can have a substantial impact on an individual’s physical and mental well-being. Poverty and food insecurity, for example, can lead to chronic stress that erodes health for a lifetime. Under the umbrella of population-oriented care, physicians proactively look out for their patients in order to maintain good health.
And, with looming physician shortages—the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates Utah will experience a shortage of 600 primary care physicians by 2025—a holistic approach to healthcare can’t come soon enough.
“This is the future of healthcare,” explained Harrison. “How we train physicians from the very beginning of their studies will help develop the medical providers of the future who are focused on wellness rather than illness.”
This could mean integrating social workers into healthcare teams to assist with financial needs or connecting patients with exercise groups. It could also mean equipping patients who have diabetes with digital devices so that providers are alerted when their blood glucose swings too high or too low. Or those providers could reach out to patients in times of need, even if they don’t have a scheduled visit.
“This program will change the way doctors think about providing medical care,” says Angie Fagerlin, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Population Health at the University of Utah. “They will better understand how to identify barriers to good health and how to get around them. This will change medicine in a fundamental way.”