When it comes to community-based medical research, Jeff Kaplan, M.D., knows exactly what he wants.
“What I’m interested in is not a research initiative in which a researcher comes into a community, completes the research and then leaves and the project falls apart,” he says. “But, rather, building sustainable models that lead to better patient care. Otherwise, the research is not helpful.”
Kaplan is a family physician at Family Medicine of Yakima and the medical director for Memorial Physicians, a primarily Yakima-based group that includes more than 70 doctors who practice a wide range of specialties in six clinics. He’s been working with Laura-Mae Baldwin, M.D., MPH ’86, Res. ’86, director of the WWAMI Region Practice and Research Network, part of the Institute of Translational Health Sciences.
Why is Kaplan interested in research? “There are a lot of things our system wants to do,” says Kaplan. Healthcare in the U.S. doesn’t work well right now, he says. It’s fragmented, inefficient and costly. Instead, he and his colleagues want to try a different model: the accountable care organization. Accountable care doesn’t measure only units of service, as traditional healthcare models do. Instead, he says, accountable care is a collaborative model that measures the quality and efficiency of medical services — and how patients respond to their care.
Tracking patient outcomes, of course, means gathering data to prove whether a treatment is effective – in a word, research. What’s different about this kind of research is that it’s not primarily based at a college or university. Instead, it’s conducted within a community.
Kaplan, Baldwin, Beverly Green, M.D., MPH ’85, of the Group Health Research Institute, and several other practitioners are applying for a grant to research a web-based blood pressure treatment model for populations normally resistant to treatment. If funded, the grant will help the researchers translate the protocol, tested at Group Health in Seattle, to community-based medical programs. Data will be collected and assessed by multiple clinics in Yakima, Seattle, and Pocatello, Idaho.
If the project is successful — as it was at Group Health — patients’ lives will be improved. And Kaplan will know he’s on the right track.
“People are hungering to improve care,” Kaplan says, and community-based research is a tool that can facilitate that improvement. “I’m excited about building these types of relationships.”