MCG dean proposes increased outreach, research funding in first state of school address

In his first state of the school address as dean of Medical College of Georgia, Dr. David Hess proposed using the school’s regional campuses and associations to build a statewide health system that can aid struggling rural hospitals, increase its research funding and outreach and help address the state’s “terrible” health status.

 

He spoke Friday to a packed gathering of faculty, students and staff in Augusta and by two-way link with regional campuses in Albany, Athens, Atlanta, Rome and Savannah. With students, faculty and volunteer faculty in each place, the school should build on those associations to create a system that spans the state. Toward this end, he proposed creating the Georgia Research Institute for Translational Health Sciences, or GRITS, to link up regional health care systems and partners with Augusta and to begin to share clinical data.

That information “is a great mine of data that we’re not using,” Hess said.

With the Augusta University Cyber Institute and the health system’s ongoing partnership with health information technology company Cerner, clinicians could begin to use the data for things like personalized medicine and even genome sequencing, he said. While it once took more than a decade and billions to sequence a genome, it can now be done in 24 hours for less than $1,000, Hess said.

Other “places are starting to do this,” he said. “We’ve got to do this.”

The statewide network could also help the school increase its funding from the National Institutes of Health, which has been around $40 million in direct funding for the last decade, Hess said. As a result, the school’s ranking has languished in the 70s while public medical schools in neighboring states are in the 40s or even the top 15, he said. All the school would have to do is increase its direct funding by less than $4 million to reach 65, which Hess set as a target for the next three to five years.

“This is an achievable goal,” he said. “But we’ve got to retain and we’ve got to recruit.” The school needs to collaborate more with the University of Georgia on research and efforts are underway to do that, Hess said.

“You put us together, we’re a juggernaut,” he said.

The statewide health network could also help the school to begin addressing the state’s lousy health rankings, which are generally in the bottom 10 for most health measures, Hess said.

“We’re terrible,” he said. “We are in a really unhealthy state.”

That is particularly true in rural counties and the state health network could help hospitals in those counties struggling to recruit physicians through more use of telemedicine. One idea at Augusta University is to recruit a nurse practitioner from those areas, give them a year of residency and then help them staff the rural Emergency Departments with telemedicine support from Augusta, Hess said. Specialists in Augusta should also be consulting with the state’s Federally Qualified Health Centers and the health system is looking at creating an app where people could consult a physician directly from their smart phone, he said.

“These are the things we’ve got to do,” Hess said. The state’s health problems are the school’s responsibility, he said.

“We’re expected to address this,” Hess said. “This is our problem.”

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

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