In many areas, Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health are competitors. But recently, the two most prominent health care organizations in the state have come together for a very important reason—your health.
For centuries, medicine was pretty straightforward: you go to the doctor when you’re sick to receive a diagnosis and treatment. But a new movement is changing the way doctors and other providers look at medicine. It’s called population health, and it means physicians are now finding new ways to meet their patients’ medical needs by looking at all aspects of life in order to provide the most comprehensive care. It’s all about preventing illness, rather than only treating people when they get sick.
“Providers and caregivers across our state provide exceptional and compassionate care to Utahns when they are ill,” says Marc Harrison, MD, president and CEO of Intermountain Healthcare. “But we know that keeping Utahns healthy needs to be a critical component in our delivery of health care. The pandemic has put that in sharp focus.”
Intermountain Healthcare will invest $50 million spread over multiple years to partner with U of U Health on a new medical education program at the U’s School of Medicine. The Population Health Student Scholars Program will be the first of its kind in the United States.
Designed to train future physicians to consider a person’s immediate medical needs along with their life circumstances, the program centers the social determinants of health, which play a key role in preventing illness and injury. These social determinants of health include racism, housing, neighborhoods, transportation, food security, personal security, and the opportunity to have meaningful work.
Here’s a simple way to think of it. Suppose a patient has diabetes and needs insulin. But what if that patient doesn’t have refrigeration in his or her home to keep that insulin viable? Under a population health model of health care, physicians will be now asking patients questions like: Do you have a refrigerator to store your insulin for your diabetes? Can you afford healthy food? Are you getting daily exercise? Can you walk safely around your neighborhood? Can you get in to see a doctor when you need to?
“This approach to patient care has the potential to advance the doctor-patient relationship in many positive ways,” says Michael L. Good, MD, CEO of University of Utah Health, executive dean of U of U School of Medicine, and senior vice president for Health Sciences. “It could lead to a metamorphosis of medical care that better addresses the emerging social and health needs of patients in the 21st century.”
While better health outcomes are optimal reasons to move to a population health program, another benefit is the financial savings for Utahns. For example, a Utahn suffering a heart attack with complications will run up an average bill of $39,000. He or she might recover completely but not be 100 percent the same after the cardiac event. A heart attack is considerably less likely to occur, though, if one controls blood pressure, exercises regularly, maintains a healthy weight, and eats wisely. In that case, the $39,000 could be applied towards even more preventative measures, such as a gym membership and access to healthy food.
As part of this new partnership, educators at the School of Medicine are already developing a curriculum for medical students around these concepts. As students enter their clinical rotations, they will spend longer periods of time in communities, which will help them to see things even more through a patient’s lens.
“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,” Harrison says. “Working with patients holistically will improve the health of all, most notably the vulnerable and underserved, who are too often left behind. This is the future of health care.”
JayBee is excited about the new facility. In some ways, working in treatment and care reminded him of sports. “You don’t make decisions independently. You work as a team,” he says. What he came to learn was, “You can’t help everyone, unfortunately, but the ones you do help, patient care makes an immense difference in their lives.”