AAFP Creates Primary Care Innovation Fellowship

Goal Is to Move the Needle on Health IT

July 19, 2017 09:36 am Sheri Porter

With the announcement of its first-ever Primary Care Innovation Fellowship, the AAFP is stepping up efforts to ensure that health information technology (IT) actually works for, not against, family physicians.

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Fellowship applicants must have a strong interest in advancing the usability of health IT, improving health IT to support primary care, and/or cultivating the ability to apply industrial and systems engineering to family medicine.

"We're looking for people with a passion for family medicine and a desire to make a difference in the usability and interoperability of health information technology for family medicine," said Steven Waldren, M.D., director of the AAFP's Alliance for eHealth Innovation, in an interview with AAFP News. "If you have those two things, then you have what we are looking for."

Application Period Now Open

Apply now for this unique opportunity; applications are due by Aug. 31 for the first year of this ongoing fellowship.

At issue, said Waldren, is that electronic health records that are currently available to physicians "were built to automate the business of health care, not to enhance health care delivery."  

Story Highlights
  • The application process for the AAFP's new Primary Care Innovation Fellowship is now open; applications are due by Aug. 31.
  • Fellowship applicants must have a strong interest in advancing the usability of health information technology (IT), improving health IT to support primary care, and/or cultivating the ability to apply industrial and systems engineering to family medicine.
  • The one-year fellowship comes with a $5,000 stipend and as much as $30,000 to put toward completion of the fellow's project.  

Check the information posted online for additional eligibility requirements and other guidelines.

This fellowship is described as a one-year, part-time commitment available as a "virtual" position that

  • requires completion of a project related to health IT,
  • includes expenses-paid travel to as many as four AAFP events or other national conferences,
  • provides access to AAFP staff and nationally recognized experts for guidance and support, and
  • pays a $5,000 stipend and includes as much as $30,000 for completion of a project.

Benefit to Family Physicians

Waldren discussed in more detail how the design of the new fellowship position will benefit all family physicians in the long term. Here's the gist of that conversation with AAFP News:

Q: Why was the fellowship created?

A: The AAFP wants to broaden its technology goals beyond driving health IT adoption to how family physicians can optimize and use technology. We know products currently on the market are not adequate for family medicine today and definitely won't be for the future.

The AAFP can't do this work alone, and so we are pulling in more entities -- both individuals and organizations -- who are interested in helping. The creation of this fellowship is meant to inspire the next generation of family physicians, and industrial and systems engineering students, who can help optimize health IT with an end goal of enhancing primary care.

Q: How is this project breaking new ground for the AAFP?

A: This is certainly not the first time the AAFP has offered a fellowship, but what's new is the focus on innovation and the push to create usability within health IT products. Also new to this fellowship program is the Academy's purposeful reach beyond just family medicine to students and usability experts who can apply their knowledge to our specialty.

For example, at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, a partnership between the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, and others culminated in the creation of an education and research collaborative called I-PrACTISE (Improving Primary Care Through Industrial and Systems Engineering).(www.fammed.wisc.edu) In working with folks involved in this project, the AAFP has seen what is possible from this kind of collaboration.

Q: How will the fruits of this fellowship project benefit all family physicians?

A: As the first fellowship recipient -- and those that follow -- put together their projects, their work will help the AAFP better advocate for needed changes by providing evidence or experience or study-related activities.

For example, a project could focus on redesigning the health IT interface to make physician work in population management more efficient. Or a fellow could look at how to incorporate the social determinants of health at the point of care. Family physicians know that is an important piece of health care, but currently, no way has been identified to do it easily.

We want the innovation fellowship recipients to apply technology to help answer those questions. Finding solutions to those types of work projects would benefit all family physicians.

Q: How will this enhance the ongoing work of the AAFP's Alliance for eHealth Innovation?

A: We'll be bringing in an individual who is external to the organization so we'll get a new perspective on issues. It will be either an individual member who has a particular issue in the practice he or she is dealing with every day or a student who brings a skill set from industrial and systems engineering that we can apply to primary care.

The three main health IT issues that the Alliance must address moving forward are usability, interoperability and closing the functionality gap between what physicians have and what they need in their electronic health record systems. The fellowship will help us in those pursuits.

Q: How will you measure success?

A: Right now -- in the first year -- that will be finding the right initial fellow, successfully getting that person through the fellowship and getting a project completed. Then we'll need to demonstrate that the project does indeed help push forward the work of the Alliance.

As we look to years two, three and beyond, success will be measured by the impact those projects have on family medicine practices. It's also crucial that through this fellowship the AAFP creates a fresh new group of individuals who are passionate about moving the needle on usability of health IT in family medicine.

More From AAFP
In the Trenches blog: AAFP's eHealth Initiative Aims to Make Health IT Work for FPs
(7 /18/2017)