To increase the development and sharing of knowledge that helps improve personal health and patient care in South Carolina, The Duke Endowment awarded more than $32 million between 2006 and 2013 to support Health Sciences South Carolina, the nation’s first statewide, research-oriented health collaborative. In 2015, the Trustees also approved a $15.3 million grant to Health Sciences South Carolina to create a first-in-the-nation health collaborative between North Carolina and South Carolina.
The field of medicine is changing rapidly, with new technologies, data analysis and knowledge created daily.
While South Carolina had several hospitals and research universities studying a wide variety of health issues, the state had no easy or formal mechanism for sharing the work of these institutions and scaling their successes statewide. As a result, when an individual institution made a significant finding that improved patient care, that knowledge, for the most part, only immediately benefited patients served by that institution.
By connecting South Carolina’s research institutions and large hospital systems, the state could expand the scale of research, capitalize on unique resources, and more broadly share the results to inform patient care and improve practices statewide and beyond.
In 2004, South Carolina began to support a statewide collaborative among leading universities and health systems to improve public health and economic well-being through research, and to help educate and train South Carolina’s health care providers on the use of new evidence-based practices.
The University of South Carolina, Medical University of South Carolina, Palmetto Health and Greenville Health System University Medical Center were the initial collaborative members, and were soon joined by Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System and Clemson University. In 2010, AnMed Health, McLeod Health and Self Regional Healthcare also joined the effort, making HSSC the nation’s first statewide research collaborative of independent integrated health systems and research-intense universities.
In 2006, The Duke Endowment awarded its largest Health Care grant to date to help develop a solid infrastructure and organization for this collaboration, named Health Sciences South Carolina (HSSC). The partners believed so fully in its benefits that they each pledged to forfeit individual grant support from the Endowment to come together for the greater good.
Using funding from the Endowment and other sources, HSSC has worked to:
- Establish innovative, multi-institutional research to improve health in South Carolina
- Promote patient-centered clinical effectiveness and outcomes
- Capture economic development opportunities related to improved health care
Using the collective knowledge of its members and other partners, HSSC addresses issues of health care quality and patient safety. HSSC also works with 12 South Carolina SmartState Centers of Economic Excellence to create economic opportunities related to health and health care in South Carolina.
The two-state health collaborative was launched in 2015, bringing together six research universities in North Carolina and South Carolina and seven major health systems to find solutions to serious health threats. Participants are the HSSC-supported organizations and the health systems and medical schools of University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (UNC), Duke University, and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Led by HSSC and supported by the $15.3 million grant from the Endowment, the Carolinas Collaborative and its Learning Health Community will help experts identify and implement meaningful solutions to the health-related challenges facing us today. By creating an opportunity to share methods, tools and expertise, the collaborative heightens the potential to transform health across the two states.
Boosting Research Power
HSSC gives its member institutions access to powerful data and research tools that would be difficult, if not impossible, for each to secure on its own. For example, HSSC has developed IT systems that allow members to share large numbers of secure patient health records while maintaining patient privacy, as well as systems that make it easier for researchers to find willing participants for clinical trials and manage those clinical trials more efficiently.
In 2013, HSSC launched an online Clinical Data Warehouse (CDW), the culmination of eight years of research and development. The CDW not only provides a complete electronic health record for all of a patient’s health care providers, but also gives researchers access to massive amounts of anonymous, real-time patient data, to allow them to more rapidly and accurately conduct statistical analyses of health-related factors across a broad sample of a specific population.
As a result, researchers can identify health-related trends and outcomes within populations that they would not have been able to see before. For example, researchers can review thousands of records of prostate cancer patients to see how outcomes differ between treatments and facilities, and examine genetic component data to draw conclusions about causes and results.
The electronic research permission network, created in 2008 with support from a $4.8 million federal stimulus grant, records if a patient is interested in participating in research and/or donating tissue. The electronic permissions are then connected to the patient’s records, eliminating paper forms and duplicative inquiries. Other hospital systems in other states are now adopting this system.
Improving Health Care Quality
Research and data collected by HSSC members form the backbone of programs to improve health care throughout South Carolina. HSSC supports its members and other providers in the state in myriad ways. For example, HSSC:
- Helps doctors in rural practices select, implement and use electronic health record software to improve patient care.
- Researches causes of and solutions to preventable infections that occur in health care institutions, and circulates the results of this research throughout South Carolina. For example, after researching ways to reduce infections around “central line” catheters, HSSC was able to share new practices with each of its members, which resulted in a decrease in infections across the state.
- Partners with the South Carolina Hospital Association to implement Every Patient Counts, which helps hospitals improve patient safety and promotes patient-centered care.
- Reaches into rural communities to ensure that patients and providers have access to research — both in terms of participation opportunities (such as clinical trials) and results. A portion of The Duke Endowment’s award to HSSC supports research that examines the effectiveness of rural health information exchanges in managing chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and hypertension.
- Opens the door for more expansive clinical trials, such as those conducted by Hollings Cancer Center at MUSC and the Gibbs Cancer Center at Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System. HSSC allows researchers at both locations to expand the number of clinical trial participants statewide through other member hospitals, providing data that is more meaningful and findings that are evidence-based.
- Works with the South Carolina Hospital Association and BlueCross Blue Shield of South Carolina to improve safety, quality, accessibility and cost effectiveness of health care throughout the state, as members of The South Carolina Partnership for Health. The Partnership currently focuses on reducing preventable hospital readmissions and will soon be working in the discipline of palliative care.
- Helps member hospitals implement standards and strategies in the Accountable Care Organization model of health care delivery (as defined by the Affordable Care Act), by providing a learning network that includes member-driven workshops and webinars.
- Identifies opportunities for research to inform and strengthen implementation of the Affordable Care Act in South Carolina.
Linking Health Care Quality and Economic Opportunity
In addition to conducting research focused on patient outcomes, HSSC also works closely with South Carolina’s SmartState initiative, designed to transform research efforts into economic development opportunities.
HSSC has helped support 12 Centers of Economic Excellence at its member institutions, each focused on creating new biomedical products or technologies. Over the past eight years, five new companies have launched from the Centers, producing a range of products and services such as brain imaging, health education simulation, telemedicine for the treatment of stroke, and patient safety devices for preventing the spread of health care-acquired infections.
- AnMed Health, Anderson
- Clemson University, Clemson
- Greenville Health System, Greenville
- Health Sciences South Carolina, Columbia
- McLeod Health, Florence
- Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston
- Palmetto Health, Columbia
- Self Regional Healthcare, Greenwood
- Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System, Spartanburg
- University of South Carolina, Columbia