HOUSTON – (June 15, 2012) – The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) has received a three-year, $3.7 million grant to continue an innovative clinic that is designed to improve outcomes for chronically ill children while reducing health care costs.
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced today 81 recipients of its Health Care Innovation Challenge Awards made possible by the Affordable Care Act. The awards support innovative projects designed to deliver high-quality medical care, enhance the health care workforce and save money.
“This is a great honor,” said Jon Tyson, M.D., principal investigator and the Michelle Bain Distinguished Professor of Medicine and Public Health at UTHealth. “Of 3,000 proposals, only 11 funded proposals focus on children, and of those, ours is one of only three focused on children with serious health problems that are high risk for hospitalization.”
The grant to UTHealth will support the continuation of the High Risk Children’s Clinic, which is directed by Ricardo Mosquera, M.D., and opened in March 2011 with seed funding from the UTHealth Medical School and the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
The goal was ambitious: Offer accessible, comprehensive and compassionate care in an enhanced medical home to improve outcomes and reduce costs for high-risk chronically ill children. Over the next three years, UTHealth physicians estimate, this clinic will save almost $4.3 million in health care costs.
“Through intensive integrated and coordinated care, the program will reduce serious illnesses, emergency room visits, hospitalizations, pediatric ICU admissions, total hospital and ICU days and total health care costs while improving the care, health and quality of life for these fragile children,” said Mosquera, an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the UTHealth Medical School.
Mosquera likens the clinic at UT Physicians to a NASCAR pit stop. The health care team – which includes primary and specialty services - converges to treat each patient’s medical needs at the same time in one location.
The team also is available 24 hours a day. Parents are encouraged to call the clinic cell phone, even if it is in the middle of the night or on the weekend. Nurse practitioners Cheryl Samuels and Tomika Harris are almost always the first responders. They answer the calls and are familiar with each patient’s medical history. For a mild fever, they may recommend something the parent can do at home to comfort their sick children, avoiding a costly trip to the emergency room. Or, if they determine that the patient requires immediate medical attention, they can coordinate care at the hospital. These prompt actions can lower costs, physicians say.
Mosquera, an attending physician at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital and Lyndon B. Johnson General Hospital, said the Health Care Innovation Challenge grant allows the team to continue offering this model of care for patients younger than 18 who have a high risk of becoming hospitalized because of chronic illnesses, including congenital anomalies, lung disorders, neurologic conditions and gastro-intestinal disease.
Eighty-five patients are currently served in the High Risk Children’s Clinic. The grant, he said, will enable the team to provide comprehensive care to as many as 300 patients.
Since the clinic opened more than a year ago, Mosquera and his colleagues have been collecting research data to study whether this medical home concept indeed lowers costs while producing the best outcomes for the sickest children.
“It’s preliminary but we are showing good results,” Mosquera said.
Tyson, the director of UTHealth’s Center for Clinical Research & Evidence-Based Medicine, said they also are working with Texas Health and Human Services to develop a sustainable reimbursement model so they can provide the best care and reduce overall costs without operating the clinic at a deficit.
Other health care team members include Susan Pacheco, M.D., Fernando Navarro, M.D., Susan Wootton, M.D., Shade Moody, M.D. and research nurse Carmen Garcia, R.N.
For more information on the High Risk Children’s Clinic, call 832-325-7300.
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