$5.9 million grant to create 'CommunityRX' system for South Side

University of Chicago Medicine-led program aims to serve 200,000 residents

May 8, 2012

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has awarded $5.9 million to a University of Chicago Medicine-led program to set up a real-time automated system that will link a patient with up-to-date information about community-based services and resources.

CommunityRx, a system to be managed by the University of Chicago Medicine's South Side Health and Vitality Studies, was among the 26 programs selected nationwide -- and the only one in Illinois -- to receive part of the $122.6 million in federal Health Care Innovation awards, made possible by the Affordable Care Act. The 26 projects were selected for their innovative solutions to deliver high quality medical care efficiently and enhance the health care workforce. The awardees announced today expect to reduce health spending by $254 million over the next three years.

The CommunityRx program is expected to serve approximately 200,000 beneficiaries of the South Side, many of whom are covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the Illinois Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan.

The South Side Health and Vitality Studies, in partnership with Chicago Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center (CHITREC) and the Alliance of Chicago Community Health Services, will develop the CommunityRx system, a continuously updated electronic database of community health resources that will be linked to the electronic health records of local safety net providers. In real time, the system will process patient data and print out a "Health.eRx" for the patient, including referrals to community resources relevant to the patient's condition and health status.

"Our innovation helps people stay healthy and manage disease by connecting them to businesses and support organizations in their community," said Stacy Tessler Lindau, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Chicago Medicine and lead researcher for this project. "The outcome will be better and more efficient health care delivery and stronger, more vital communities. That's ultimately the way we'll cut cost from the system. I see this investment as a validation of the innovative, community-engaged approach that the University of Chicago Medicine and its South Side partners, including our youth, are taking to transform urban health."

Program designers say CommunityRx could drive immediate positive outcomes. For instance, a physician at Komed Holman Health Center, one of the first sites for the system rollout, would use data on nearby resources to help a diabetes patient follow though with a laundry list of health recommendations. The patient would leave with an auto-generated list of health care providers such as a podiatrist, a business such as a drugstore that stocks diabetic needs, and the closest sources for healthy food such as a farmer's market or grocery store.

As part of the CommunityRx program, aggregated data on patient diagnoses and referrals will be used to generate reports for community-based service providers to use. The CommunityRx will build on infrastructure supported by funding from the National Institute on Aging. Anticipated outcomes include better population health, better use of appropriate services, increased compliance with care, and fewer avoidable visits to the emergency room with estimated savings of approximately $6.4 million.

"We can't wait to support innovative projects that will save money and make our health care system stronger," Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement today announcing the winners. "It's yet another way we are supporting local communities now in their efforts to provide better care and lower cost."

The 26 new projects include collaborations of leading hospitals, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, technology innovators, community-based organizations, and patients' advocacy groups, among others, located in urban and rural areas that will begin work this year to address health care issues in local communities. This initiative allows applicants to come up with their best ideas to test how we can quickly and efficiently improve the quality and affordability of health care.

The awardees were also chosen for their focus on creating a well-trained health care workforce that is equipped to meet the need for new jobs in the 21st century health system. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects the health care and social assistance sector will gain the most jobs between now and 2020.

The CommunityRx system will train and create new jobs for an estimated 90 individuals from the South Side. This includes high school youth who will to collect data on community health resources as part of the South Side Health and Vitality Studies' MAPSCorps program. It will also include the creation of a new type of health worker, Community Health Information Experts (CHIEfs), who will assist patients in using the Health.eRx and engage community-based service providers in meaningful use of the CommunityRx reports.

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