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New Dell Med initiative embeds health interventions in community programs

Friday, October 25, 2019 by Katherine Corley

On Monday, UT Dell Medical School launched Factor Health, a new initiative in Austin and Houston that builds and tests programs to deliver health interventions outside clinics and hospitals, per a Dell Med press release. Social service provider Meals on Wheels Central Texas, youth development organization Youth Rise Texas and managed care payers Amerigroup Texas and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas have all signed on as partners.

The Factor Health approach is different, said Mini Kahlon, Dell Med’s vice dean and executive director of Factor Health. “It’s about moving beyond traditional, fee-for-service care found in hospitals and clinics, to helping everyone in the health ecosystem – investors, health care payers, community-based organizations, academic medical centers – see themselves and the roles they can play in health differently.”

Kickstarted by a $2.6 million investment from Houston-based Episcopal Health Foundation, Factor Health collaborates with community-based organizations that address nonmedical components of health, such as food, transportation and social support, to design solutions to measurably improve the physical and mental health of their target populations.

After matching community-based organizations with health care “payer partners,” such as insurance companies, that are interested in the health outcomes the organization is targeting, Factor Health funds a two-year, evidence-based pilot program to assess the results of the health interventions.

“Factor Health has already been successful in bringing together unconventional partners who are thinking creatively about health outcomes,” said Karen DeSalvo, a Dell Med professor and former acting assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “Now the challenge is to demonstrate measurable improvements in health. I expect that payers around the country – not to mention other academic medical centers – will be watching with interest.”

The first wave of health interventions will be delivered by Meals on Wheels Central Texas, matched with payer partner Amerigroup Texas, and Youth Rise Texas, matched with payer partner Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas.

Along with providing medically tailored meals, Meals on Wheels Central Texas will focus on helping older adults better manage their diabetes at home by assessing glucose levels and depression, which is commonly associated with diabetes, as well as providing referrals as needed. The intervention is intended to reduce emergency room visits and hospitalizations due to poorly managed diabetes. The program and assessment will begin in January 2020.

Grassroots organization Youth Rise Texas, which helps young adults who have been harmed by family trauma, including separation, criminalization and deportation, will use a peer-to-peer curriculum that incorporates leadership, learning and youth development to reduce depression, anxiety and ER visits in about 150 youth. Initial support for this program will start in January 2020 and the full program and assessment will be rolled out in September 2020.

If the program outcomes demonstrate success after two years, the payer partner will create “payment models based on outcomes” to support a scaled-up version of the program after the pilot. “Ultimately, the intent is for payer partners to transition to longer-term funders,” according to the press release.

“There are all kinds of organizations that are, today, contributing to better health,” said Kahlon. “The problem is, the health care system doesn’t pay them for it. That’s where Factor Health and our team at Dell Med come in.”

Two more partnerships, focused on reducing obesity and depression as well as sustaining recovery from heart failure, will be announced in November 2019, according to the Factor Health website.

Photo courtesy of Dell Medical School.

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