Director’s Update — February 2015

Every month, the CTSI Stories Blog will post excerpts from ongoing conversations with the institute’s co-directors.

Below, Nana Bennett discusses the spring CTSI Seminar Series on population health, and the CTSI’s emphasis on this field of growing importance.NanaBennett

Tell me a little about why this topic is so important.

The United States spends more money per capita on healthcare than any country in the world, and yet our health outcomes are very poor relative to most other developed nations. Overall, it’s evident that we, as a country, have not done well improving the health of our residents.

The CTSI is increasingly focused on health improvement and the ways in which research can contribute directly to population health improvement.  We initially described this approach as  pillar of the CTSI, but increasingly we are viewing it as an overarching goal.  Through the CTSI seminars, we hope to give everyone an introduction to population health, which is a way of thinking about how to increase the health of all of our citizens by addressing certain key issues. The US government has set a triple aim: to improve health, improve health care, and reduce cost, and in order to do that, it’s becoming more and more critical for both health care systems and health research to embrace a population health approach.

Why is there such a gap between what we spend and our outcomes?

There are a number of reasons. First, our system is set up to treat individuals, rather than populations. This means we spend a lot of money on new technologies and expensive treatments for individual problems, rather than allocating resources to prevention which will help the population’s health improve.

Additionally, it’s currently believed that the health care a person receives only accounts for about 10 percent of the health of that person. Behaviors, meanwhile, account for 40 percent. So we spend a lot of money treating the consequences of some widespread problems, such as obesity and tobacco-use, which could be more efficiently dealt with by addressing behaviors on the front end.

Those are a few examples from the clinical enterprise. On the research side, we’ve always focused on basic science discovery and exciting technologies. However, we have not ensured that our research dollars support studies that address the most important determinants of health and can be quickly translated into health improvement for the population as a whole.

With that as a backdrop, what is the CTSI doing to address population health?

The CTSI is formulating ways to place population health at its forefront. We want everything we touch — whether it’s our pilot grants, our education and career development, our research support programs — to somehow be moving towards the goal of improving the population’s health. We want to make translation into clinical and community solutions our primary goal. And, of course, this lecture series will introduce key concepts of population health and population research. We want to give everyone a grounding in this work in the hopes that they will consider this paradigm as they pursue their own interests.  We do not want to, in any way, diminish the importance of basic science, but rather hope to articulate the road to its translation into better health.

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Previous director’s updates:

January 2015 – Harriet Kitzman reflects on her time as a CTSI co-director.
December 2014  – Karl Kieburtz offers his takeaways from the CTSI all-hands retreat.
November 2014 – Nana Bennett speaks to the expansion of the role of the CTSI’s Community Advisory Council.
October 2014 – Harriet Kitzman discusses the science of team science.
September 2014 – Karl Kieburtz talks about why the CTSI is beefing up its informatics team.
August 2014 – Nana Bennett discusses the new Population Health pillar.
July 2014 – Harriet Kitzman offers her takeaways from the Mini Summer Research Institute.
June 2014 – Karl Kieburtz gives an overview of the CTSI’s six pillars.

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