UTHSC Researchers Awarded $4.5 Million to Launch New Tennessee Heart Health Network

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Researchers from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center have received a $4.5 million grant over three years from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to lead a statewide network of primary care providers, health systems, and academic centers to identify, develop, and implement patient-centered approaches to improve quality of care and outcomes for people with cardiovascular disease. Tennessee is one of only four states in the country chosen by AHRQ to receive this grant and create a statewide heart health network.

The Tennessee Heart Health Network will identify evidence-based interventions to aid primary care providers across the state in treating cardiovascular disease, the main cause of premature morbidity and mortality in the United States. The initiative will focus on hypertension control and smoking cessation as the two primary modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease and will help primary care practices implement proven approaches to reduce strokes and heart attacks.

Jim Bailey, MD

Jim Bailey, MD, Robert S. Pearce Endowed Chair in Internal Medicine, professor of Medicine and Preventive Medicine, and director of the Center for Health Systems Improvement and the Tennessee Population Health Consortium at UTHSC, is the principal investigator for the initiative. Key academic and health system partners across the state include Ascension Saint Thomas, Ballad Health, Christ Community Health Services, Church Health, Erlanger Health System, East Tennessee State University, ETSU Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Regional One Health, the University of Memphis, UT Medical Center, and West Tennessee Healthcare.

Leading Tennessee health plans, health professional organizations, and advocacy organizations are supporting the initiative. As part of this effort, Qsource, a non-profit health care quality improvement organization will provide intensive practice facilitation services to 75 or more primary care practices across Tennessee’s Three Grand Divisions. Additionally, individual “physician champions” from each region are leading the effort across the state.

The Tennessee Heart Health Network is the signature initiative for the new statewide Tennessee Population Health Consortium. Partner health systems and practices are participating in the consortium and its Tennessee Population Health Data Network to track patient outcomes and ensure people at risk for heart disease get the lifesaving recommended care they need most. The network will also get the advice and expertise of patients across the state on the interventions they find most effective in helping them adhere to treatment and make the lifestyle changes necessary to improve their heart health.

“We will be bringing the best evidence from patient-centered outcomes research and from the patient voices in Tennessee as to what works best in moving then needle on heart health,” Dr. Bailey said.

“We are delighted to receive this award supporting Dr. Bailey’s work in promoting heart health among Tennessean’s,” said Scott Strome, MD, executive dean of the UTHSC College of Medicine. “These studies – felt locally and with global implications for care – reinforce our focus on being an outward-facing presence to benefit the health care needs of our communities, our state, and the world at large.”

Tennessee ranks third in the United States in cardiovascular events, sixth in deaths from cardiovascular disease, and fifth in deaths from stroke. “People in Tennessee face a disproportionate burden of heart attacks and strokes because of high rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension, which are caused by eating high-calorie addictive processed food, inadequate physical activity, and using tobacco. Primary care-based health coaches have been shown to help people change their health habits for themselves and stick to healthy lifestyle changes. We want to put a health coach in every primary care clinic in Tennessee. This simple approach can really reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease in Tennessee,” Dr. Bailey said.

The Tennessee Heart Health Network will help participating practices offer new services, like health coaching and motivational text messaging, that have been proven to help people do better at healthy eating, physical activity, taking essential medications regularly, and stopping smoking. The network will develop and offer toolkits with evidenced-based and patient-tested interventions to participating primary care providers across the state. In this way, the Tennessee Heart Health Network will help Tennessee populations most in need improve their own heart health.