A five-year, $2 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services aims to get health professionals focusing on population health, and Southern Illinois University's School of Medicine will help lead the training.
"I think it enhances what we're already doing. We, at the PA Program, use a problem-based learning curriculum, and we're going to focus on adding some asynchronous learning modules, and we're going to work with Family Medicine - the residency - as well as the medical students in order to pull the three sets of learners together."
Brooke Miller is a faculty member in SIU's Physician Assistant Program. She says the grant will prepare PA's, medical students, and residents to provide necessary care using a team approach.
"And so, adding this asynchronous learning module and the flipped classroom platforms, combining that with the medical students and the residency students not only helps the learners learning together, work together professionally as they're learning, but also once they graduate and finish the programs, they're used to working with one another and understand each other's roles better."
"A team approach is, you know, taking care of the patient, and every team player has a part in taking care of the patient. So when you learn how to take care of the patient, and you work at the top of your license, the patient definitely benefits from that."
Doctor Quincy Scott is a professor in SIU's Family and Community Medicine program, and the director of Family Medicine Residency Program in Carbondale. He says learning together also helps promote population-based care, which focuses on preventative medicine.
"You're able to work through modules and say, 'You know, for our patient in this office visit, we need to not only see them for what they're coming in for - the acute problem - but we need to focus on preventative medicine to prevent the disease from even happening.'"
And that's something Doctor Sara Malone - the Director of Quality for SIU's Family Medicine Residency Program - says helps patients and their caregivers. She says the grant will also help build a larger care team for patients - one that includes people to help patients navigate what can sometimes be a complicated medical system.
"It's unrealistic in today's medicine for anyone to think that the provider alone is going to be able to take care of every single thing with a patient. So working in population management is going to further expand team-based care and those other services are going to provide the support to the providers so that they can talk about colonoscopies and mammograms and they're going to know which population to target, and when those patients have problems seeking out those services, you have case managers right there to figure out the problem and how can we resolve it."
SIU's School of Medicine already leads in problem-based learning. But now that model will be expanded, with students, residents, and physician's assistants all learning to work as a team. Physician Assistant Program Director Don Diemer says those team members can especially help in areas where medical care isn't as easy to come by.
"About 80% of our PA's that go to SIU end up working in those underserved or rural areas. So the added emphasis on population health with them, at least, will have a big impact in those communities - help us serve them better."
In the first year of the grant, the School of Medicine will spend most of the time planning for how to implement the new model. Then it will be taken into the classroom, and eventually expanded to the Family Medicine and Physician Assistant sites all over the region.
"Not only are we changing the curriculum that will impact all the student learners, we're actually going to start applying the techniques out in the community so that they'll see it first-hand."
Doctor Malone says adding case managers, social workers, even data analysts to the team will also help providers take care of the needs within a community - including screenings, tests, and other preventative measures. She says that has multiple benefits.
"One of the things that will help providers accomplish this will be the 'team-based' care approach that involves case managers, and registry work, and data analysts. So once we have this up and going at all the PA Hub sites, and the residency program, our hope is to provide such a cost-saving measure to the areas, that they will then be able to employ those teams to help continue on this care."
And Brooke Miller hopes those changes will help make medicine more accessible to people across the country in the future.
"You know, for years, the United States historically has practiced reactive medicine, and SIU School of Medicine is a leader in the nation in problem-based learning. By transitioning to more of the prevention model, I think we're going to see ultimately cost-savings for the U.S. healthcare system."