How Humana and the University of Houston are teaming up to make a difference in health

Humana and the University of Houston recently teamed up to officially launch the new Humana Integrated Health System Sciences Institute at the University of Houston (the Humana Institute).

The Humana Institute is designed to unite the existing colleges of Nursing, Pharmacy, Social Work and Optometry with the university’s new College of Medicine. Humana previously announced how its $15 million gift will help defray start-up and operational costs for the College of Medicine, as well as fund endowed chairs for each of the five health colleges.

The event, which was attended by a wide variety of UH students, faculty, and community members and was covered by the Houston Business Journal last month, commenced with a panel discussion with the following leaders from Humana and the University of Houston:

• Renu Khator, University of Houston President
• Roy Beveridge, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Humana
• Stephen Spann, MD, Vice President for Medical Affairs and Founding Dean of College of Medicine, University of Houston

“Health care isn’t a solo sport, it’s a team sport. An integrated team approach where doctors, nurses, pharmacists, social workers and more are all working together for the patient will increase the value of healthcare. We must also address major health disparities that exist today while recognizing the importance of social determinants of health,” said Spann. “This new partnership with Humana enhances the University of Houston’s ability to achieve its mission of improving the health and healthcare of our community, our city and beyond.”

Dr. Beveridge addressed the importance of moving from a fee-for-service reimbursement model to a value-based reimbursement model. “The payment model for all government reimbursement is going to an outcome-based, quality-based set of metrics.” He continued, “As we move to this world of paying for outcomes, then everything (social determinants of health such as food insecurity, social isolation and loneliness) that Dr. Spann just talked about is an imperative. If you are reimbursing for outcomes but thinking in a fee-for-service mentality, you lose efficiency and don’t bring the quality of care that each one of these patients deserves.”

UH-Humana: a strategic partnership

“I would like to thank Humana for their generosity, vision and commitment. There’s so much synergy and compatibility in our missions. How do we make our nation a better place? We are here for the people to empower communities,” said Khator. “The structure of this partnership with five Humana endowed chairs in our five health professions colleges will force collaboration. We will come together to solve problems.”

“Launching the Humana Integrated Health System Sciences Institute at the University of Houston marks a critical milestone in our strategic relationship,” said Tray Cockerell, Director, Strategic Relationships, Office of the Chief Medical Officer, who is responsible for evaluating and leading strategic relationships that further Humana’s strategy of integrated care delivery and value-based care adoption.

In this role, Cockerell partners internally across Humana to drive population health outcomes and to integrate the operations and outcomes of Humana with the University of Houston and other academic and community partners.

“We are partnering on cutting-edge projects that will have a measurable impact on health education and on population health,” Cockerell said. “The number of students and University of Houston faculty and staff who attended truly reflects the importance of this partnership and the significance of the Institute.”

“We’re extraordinarily proud and thankful to partner with the University of Houston,” said Worthe Holt, MD, Vice President, Office of the Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Holt is responsible for operations in the CMO office. “This partnership is truly a part of our vision. If we can positively impact health care in Houston, we can scale up and do so elsewhere. We’re going to implement a very innovative approach and train a whole new generation of health care providers who can take this body of knowledge and make a difference in the health of our nation.”

Driving integrated care

At the launch event, there was a second panel discussion that focused on how the Humana Institute would be designed to address today’s health care challenges.

The panel discussion, which featured Dr. Spann; Lamar Pritchard, Dean, College of Pharmacy; Dr. Holt; and Kathryn Tart, Dean, College of Nursing, focused on the future of inter-professional education, social determinants of health, and value in health care.

During the panel, Dr. Holt spoke to the increasing impact of social determinants of health; the population health approach to health care delivery; and the robust research and clinical expertise that Humana brings to the partnership.

Dr. Spann also commented on the wealth of experience that Humana brings to the table and the way Humana integrates care. Said Dr. Spann, “We will benefit substantially from the practical, hands-on knowledge our Humana colleagues have and will share with us.”

Dean Tart said the partnership will “work for the betterment of our patients while moving them toward a healthier life and a peaceful recovery.” She also said the partnership would ensure that nursing students learn to address social determinants of health, and she noted how Humana’s Bold Goal would help drive the partnership.

During the panel, Dr. Spann spoke to how the new school will address the challenges of medication non-adherence and the high costs associated with it. He also cited the importance of taking learnings to the next level and Humana’s “state-of-the-art approach to primary care” that can be leveraged to improve quality of life and health care outcomes. Representatives from both organizations also emphasized how data transparency and interoperability will be critical areas of development, as well as how technology can drive preventive medicine.

Dr. Holt envisions the partnership will help prepare students to operate in an integrated care model: “So whether it’s a doctor, nurse, optometrist, pharmacist, or social worker, we would like to see all of them leverage their expertise to change the way we deliver health care and achieving better outcomes in a more equitable fashion as well as a more cost-efficient fashion. In a value-based model, when it’s done correctly, you can improve health, cost and quality. Responsibility, accountability and opportunity will help change the health of our communities for the underserved and the disadvantaged and those who depend on federal programs.”

Students compete to improve care

The launch event also hosted a health care poster competition depicting ideas for integrated care delivery. According to Cockerell, “I was really impressed with the depth of the research abstracts and the quality of the poster presentations from the students. These young men and women are brilliant and will be foundational to the continued evolution of our health care system.”

Last September, both organizations disclosed how they also intend to collaborate on a number of other opportunities, including

• Adjunct professorships and teaching opportunities for Humana subject matter experts
• Opportunities to partner in shaping curricula in a wide range of topics, including value-based payment, home-based care, population health, data analytics and more
• Partnership on research and publications
• The establishment of value-based care clinic labs for University of Houston health sciences students and medical residents
• Internships and rotation programs to provide practical experience

While the partnership is still in its early stages, Dr. Beveridge says both parties see great potential to improve health. “When we looked at the University of Houston’s commitment to serve the people around the community, combined with their belief in education for all parts of the health care system, we knew that we had to be a part of this,” said Dr. Beveridge. “The more we can educate, we believe that it’s going to foster an unleashing of talent over the next several years. We’re very excited to see how this is going to work out.”

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