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VUSM team seeks to hone in on health care ‘hot spots’

Jun. 26, 2014, 8:42 AM

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine is fielding one of 10 teams of students selected to participate in a project aimed at identifying the most frequent users of health care.

Called “hot spotting,” this novel approach allows health care providers to zero in on “super users” in order to identify the reasons behind high utilization and to teach patients how to overcome them. Reducing hospital resource utilization has the potential to improve patient health and substantially decrease hospital costs.

The project, funded by the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), in partnership with the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers and Primary Care Progress, involves interprofessional teams of students from schools throughout the country.

“We know that a small cohort of the population consumes a lot of our health care resources,” said Jule West, M.D., assistant professor of Medicine. “This program will drill down to who these patients are, why they are high utilizers, and what we can do to better coordinate their medical care and engage them in the process.

“It is all about care coordination, education and support for patients,” she said. “In some ways, it is building a circle of advisors for this group of patients.”

The Vanderbilt team plans to recruit four to five patients and follow them during a six-month period, which will allow a more extensive look into patient habits and lifestyle.

“The goal is not to be their medical expert, but to be a partner with them in promoting positive, sustainable health practices,” said fourth-year medical student Andrew Wu. “Ultimately, we are hoping that as we walk alongside them and understand their barriers to good health we can work together to develop strategies to overcome those barriers and eventually help teach them to effectively and appropriately navigate the complicated world of our health system.

“It’s the idea that we will be teaching them how to fish, not fishing for them.”

Wu said the project is a good fit for the VPIL team assigned to participate in the study.

Since 2010 the Vanderbilt University Program in Interprofessional Learning (VPIL) has created patient-focused health care teams consisting of students from various disciplines — medical, nursing, pharmacy and social work — to work together in a clinical setting.

Students will share data through webinars and conferences as well as submit a final report that they hope will play a part in developing the best health care practices.

“We are excited about this project because we will be able to hone our skills as providers,” said Wu. “We will not just be looking at the patient, but their entire environment. We will be learning how to consider the patient’s living environment and how that can dramatically impact both their health and the entire health system.”

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