Research improves health, makes economic impact

02/24/2012 12:00 AM

02/24/2012 9:53 AM

Medical research in the United States has led to great improvements in health. Our average lifespan has more than doubled since the early 1900s. We lead the world in cancer care and have made great strides in the treatment of cardiovascular diseases. Nonetheless, we continue to face serious health challenges as a nation. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States spends more than $7,900 per capita (33 percent more than Norway), which is second in expenditures of the 30 countries in the OECD. However, 27 countries have lower infant mortality rates and 22 have a higher life expectancy. Conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and hypertension make our children run the risk of having shorter, unhealthier lives than us or our parents.

Research teams like those at the KU School of Medicine-Wichita focus on delivering care that has shown to:

•  improve the outcomes of patients in the health care system
•  investigate how the system delivers that care
•  devise strategies to improve delivery of care
•  lower costs.

Translational care

Close partnerships among those in the pharmaceutical industry, basic scientists who perform work in a lab, and clinicians take new drugs to the bedside. Research clinicians in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the medical school in Wichita are established leaders in this arena — locally and nationally — and work with the pharmaceutical industry as well as the National Institutes of Health. Along with regional partners they have established a clinical trial unit for psychiatric drug testing, while other KU Wichita research clinicians are evaluating drugs in other populations, such as cancer patients and newborns, and those with HIV.

Outcomes and the science of implementation

Many patients do not receive “recommended care” at their primary care providers or during hospital visits. Others receive what we consider good care, but the outcomes are not as planned. Some receive expensive treatments, yet it’s unclear their care is improved. Research in this area is called “outcomes research.” Investigators who focus on outcomes can examine what’s of importance to patients, health care systems, insurers, and governmental agencies focused on both quality and cost of care. KU Wichita clinicians, physicians, and trainees are involved at all levels.

Collaboration, support, and impact

Physicians, research scientists, medical students, and residents at the KU School of Medicine-Wichita are working on many efforts like these in partnership with colleagues at Wesley Medical Center, Emergency Medical Services of Sedgwick County, Wichita State University, Via Christi Health Systems, the Medical Society of Sedgwick County, Sedgwick County Public Health Department and more.

To make a difference in patients’ lives requires leadership and commitment along with innovation. It also requires partnerships with individuals in engineering, social and behavioral psychology, and computer technology as well as new ways of exploring data and teaching people to care for themselves.

We are fortunate to find such expertise in Wichita and to enjoy the support of many institutions, including local health care systems, the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, Kansas Health Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. Other supporters include the Kansas State Legislature through continued funding and the Kansas Bioscience Authority through early research grants.

In addition to improving health, research can have tremendous economic impact. In November 2011, a study by consulting firm Tripp Umbach concluded that medical research conducted at Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) medical schools and teaching hospitals in 2009 added nearly $45 billion to the nation’s economy while one in 500 U.S. jobs was supported by the medical research conducted by AAMC medical schools and teaching hospitals. KU School of Medicine-Wichita is one of those medical schools.

M. Michele Mariscalco, is the associated dean for research and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Kansas School of Medicine, Wichita.

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