A $15.3 million grant from the Duke Endowment to Health Sciences South Carolina will fuel the nation's first dual-state health collaborative in North Carolina and South Carolina, aimed at tackling the common health issues faced by many American communities.

In fact, the funding will help researchers from leading academic medical centers and health systems in the two states expand upon the concept of the Institute of Medicine's Learning Health System to make possible learning health communities – an integral part of the endowment-funded effort will entail expanding HSSC’s resources to other health and social service entities that can benefit from data and analytics.

Also See: Learning Health System is Goal of Interoperability

HSSC President and CEO Helga Rippen, M.D., said the new cross-border collaboration is indeed something to get excited about.

"I think it's news if you can even get to this kind of collaboration at a state level," said Rippen, who came to HSSC in January 2015. "The reason I actually came here was I have never heard of three competing universities and, originally, four competing healthcare systems coming together before it was sexy. They really had a vision for working together to address issues in health in this state and to provide opportunities for researchers at the universities.

"If you think about where innovation truly happens, it's around the edges – when different sectors and different areas of expertise touch and actually work together is where you find innovation. The areas of expertise in this initiative are deep and broad, and the opportunity for innovation is pretty significant."

Today, HSSC-supported organizations in South Carolina include academic centers Clemson University, the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), and the University of South Carolina, as well as health systems AnMed Health, Greenville Health System, McLeod Health, MUSC Health, Palmetto Health, Self Regional Healthcare, and Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System. As a result of the Duke Endowment grant, HSSC is collaborating with the health systems and medical schools of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Duke University, and Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in efforts to build upon the infrastructure and enable the use of data to improve health in both states.

An integral component of the South Carolina Learning Health System is HSSC’s Clinical Data Warehouse. It captures data from more than 3.8 million patients from HSSC-affiliated health systems and integrates the data into a structured, multi-use format that HHSC officials say gives researchers and clinicians the ability to significantly impact chronic disease in South Carolina in areas such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and obesity.

Given the high percentage of South Carolinians who suffer from those chronic diseases, Rippen said the learning health community approach will become increasingly relevant as more health systems begin to address improving the social determinants of health.

"Ultimately, the health of individuals in any community, anywhere in the world, is dependent upon the community's infrastructure, and that goes beyond just healthcare," she said. "It's the educational system, the private sector for jobs and opportunities – it's everything, so an interesting societal question is who ultimately has responsibility for this concept of health?

"Is it appropriate to place the entire burden of health in this global context to a clinician, or is it a broader community responsibility? That's something I think we're going to have to figure out."

The latest Duke Endowment award is the third multi-million dollar grant made to HSSC by the Charlotte-based foundation. The endowment awarded HSSC $21 million in 2006 and $11.25 million in 2011; the new grant brings the endowment’s total funding of HSSC to $47.55 million.

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