HHS Secretary Outlines New Grant Program to Promote Care Coordination

AAFP Assembly Serves as Backdrop for Announcement

October 24, 2014 10:18 pm Michael Laff Washington –

Saluting family physicians for being the first point of contact with patients, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell spoke directly to Academy members attending the 2014 AAFP Assembly about a new initiative that aims to improve quality through greater coordination of care.

During the 2014 AAFP Assembly, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell announces a new grant program designed to help physicians transform their practices to enhance care coordination.

On Oct. 23, Burwell announced an $840 million grant program that will support efforts to improve comprehensive care by helping physicians transform their practices to enhance care coordination and expand information-sharing. Called the Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative, the program intends to support 150,000 clinicians, a much larger effort than previous grant programs.

"I do appreciate the special role you all play in your communities," Burwell told attendees. "You are your patients' advocate. You are the first person they call when they are sick or when they have a question."

Burwell offered further praise for family physicians, noting that their motivation for entering the medical field began with a desire to interact with patients regularly while building a personal relationship with each one.

Story Highlights
  • During the 2014 AAFP Assembly, HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced a new grant program designed to promote greater coordination of care among physicians and other clinicians.
  • Grants will be available in two programs, one targeting large group practices health care systems and another for professional medical associations and organizations that create evidence-based clinical guidelines.
  • AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., of Milford, Neb., praised the agency's action, saying it illustrates the kind of long-term commitment needed to move toward an evidence-based system of health care that is focused on helping patients obtain better care.

"You represent so much of what is right in our health care system," she said. "You care for people and you care about people."

Two separate grant programs will be offered, including one to establish "practice transformation networks" that is tailored to large group practices, quality improvement organizations and health care systems. This program is dedicated to providing quality improvement expertise and other assistance to practices that have already demonstrated progress with electronic health records and coordination of care. This program will award grants of between $2 million and $50 million over a four-year period.

A second grant program will foster "support and alignment networks" and is being targeted to entities such as professional medical associations and organizations that create evidence-based guidelines for clinical practice. Grant recipients would create infrastructure that highlights evidence-based practices that then would be distributed to a national membership. Individual grants awarded under this program will total between $1 million and $3 million for the same time period.

AAFP President Robert Wergin, M.D., of Milford, Neb., praised the agency's action, saying it illustrates the kind of long-term commitment needed to move toward a system of health care that is evidence-based and focused on helping patients obtain better care.

"We commend the Department of Health and Human Services for establishing the (Transforming) Clinical Practice Initiative, and we applaud Secretary Burwell's continued support of primary care physicians as they lead the way toward ensuring Americans have the highest quality health care," he said in a prepared statement.

The new initiative will differ from existing efforts in that it will involve more clinicians, including family physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants and clinical pharmacists. Burwell emphasized that the department's intent is to work with physicians in a partnership.

"We're not seeking to impose rules from the top down," she said. "We want to support you in innovation."

Some of the strategies that CMS is seeking to promote aim to give physicians greater access to patient information. Physicians and other clinicians can work to expand their communication methods with patients and use electronic health records to measure efficiency.

“Primary care physicians are the foundation for high-quality, efficient health care," said Wergin. "For more than a decade, the AAFP has supported practice transformation. We have advocated a national policy that enables family physicians to coordinate patient care, focus on quality rather than the quantity of services, end fragmentation, and reduce unnecessary tests, procedures and institutional care."

Burwell characterized the initiative as an attempt to move away from heated debates about who is responsible for improving health outcomes. "At the end of the day it's not about making a point," she said. "It's about making progress."

CMS is accepting applications to participate in the initiative until Jan. 6, 2015. Interested applicants are encouraged to submit a letter of intent by Nov. 20. Awards will be announced in the spring or summer of 2015.

Burwell also addressed ongoing health care issues in her remarks during the Academy meeting, including efforts to stop the spread of the Ebola virus.

"As physicians, you know this is a difficult disease to catch," she said. "The best way to be safe in the U.S. is to stop Ebola abroad."

Burwell also noted that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has enabled millions of Americans to obtain health care and said the law has contributed to the lowest inflation levels in 50 years. Before the legislation was enacted, she said, "We waited for patients to get sick to treat them instead of focusing on prevention."

Finally, recognizing the strong influence family physicians have on their patients, Burwell urged attendees to encourage recently insured patients to maintain their coverage while suggesting to patients without insurance that they enroll during the next open enrollment period, which begins Nov. 15.

"As family physicians, you know how hard it is for patients who don't have insurance or if their insurance runs out," Burwell said. "Too many people that you (have) served were either underinsured or uninsured."