Industry-Sponsored Research Week
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Humana, U Houston partner on new med school in bid to boost population health

By David Schwartz
Published: December 11th, 2018

It may not be all that unique for a medical school and a corporation to collaborate, but this one’s a little different; you see, this medical school has not even opened yet (the inaugural class will begin study in the fall of 2020).

Humana Inc. and the University of Houston have begun a “long-term strategic partnership,” which includes a $15 million donation from Humana to help cover the new school’s start-up and operating costs. Humana will also be involved in the training of physicians at the soon-to-open University of Houston College of Medicine.

The key to the partnership is a shared vision of healthcare between Humana and UH. “I’m not aware of [many] health insurance company/medical school partnerships; there’s some distinctiveness to that,” asserts Stephen J. Spann, MD, founding dean of the UH College of Medicine. “One really great feature of this partnership is the alignment of the mission and goals of the two entities. While Humana is identified as a health or insurance company, they’re really focused on finding better ways to take care of people — populations of people — and creating a higher quality of care at a lower cost. Our big focus is training doctors, providing high value care and training healthcare teams to provide integrated care. That’s one of the real missions and goals of Humana.”

“Humana has an interest in helping advance the science of primary care,” adds Tray Cockerell, the insurer’s director of strategic relationships. “The University of Houston College of Medicine is a perfect opportunity for us to be on the ground floor with a partner that is establishing a school focused on population health, health equity, and providing care to the underserved population in Houston, TX, and beyond.”

Cockerell also feels strongly that this partnership is unique, in large part because the new med school’s focus is so closely aligned with Humana’s need for physicians in the region. “UH’s College of Medicine mission is to develop a medical school that will help meet a clearly identified need for more and better primary care physicians (PCPs) in the state of Texas,” he says. “Today, Texas has 71 PCPs per 100,000 people — which ranks an alarming 47th out of 50 states. Their distinctive focus on preparing primary care doctors with a better understanding of community health disparities will differentiate them from all other medical schools in Texas and from most institutions across the United States.”

Like most significant partnerships, this one took some ‘seed-planting.’ “Our advancement team met some of the folks at Humana two to three years ago, as we were just beginning to plan a medical school,” Spann recalls. “We had some early conversations, and in the relatively recent past a team of Humana leadership came down to talk with us in person about our plans for the school, our vision and mission, and the kind of training program we were envisioning — and they became very interested in what we’re doing. They saw some alignment in the kind of training program we’re developing and the kind of physicians they feel we need for the future.

How will Humana’s $15-million gift be applied to the new medical school? Spann says that $5 million went to five endowed chairs in medicine, nursing, pharmacy, social work, and optometry, “which I think recognizes the importance to Humana of team-based care,” he says. “They’re not just interested in a medical school and training doctors, but in creating an integrated healthcare team.”

The other $10 million, he says, will support start-up costs of the medical school. “A significant amount of that money will be spent in the development and opening of the ‘Humana Integrated Health System Sciences Institute,’” says Spann. “That will really focus on the training, education, research and even patient care service emphasizing improving the value of healthcare.” The institute, he notes, will be part of the medical school.

Does he anticipate additional financial relationships going forward? “I think that’s yet to be determined; hopefully it will be a long-term partnership and collaboration. We’ll see how it evolves,” says Spann.

A detailed article on the UH-Humana partnership appears in the November issue of Industry-Sponsored Research Management. To subscribe and access the full article, along with the publication’s entire archive of case studies, best practices, and success strategies for building long-term industry partnerships and engagement, CLICK HERE.

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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