| November 1, 2018

A One-of-a-Kind Partnership Aims to Improve Healthcare for Children in Illinois

Andreea Ciulac

Andreea Ciulac is former Chicago Tribune writer with almost a decade of reporting experience. She has a knack for deciphering... Andreea Ciulac is former Chicago Tribune writer with almost a decade of reporting experience. She has a knack for deciphering complex medical reports and statistics and conveying them into engaging stories that will help executives in healthcare keep up with the digital transformations in their industry. She covers an array of topics from pharma to startups and the Illinois healthcare system.

Top three healthcare organizations in Illinois are teaming up to improve pediatric care in the state.

The University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital, Advocate Children’s Hospital and NorthShore University HealthSystem just announced a new pediatric clinical collaboration.

The goal is to increase access to care for young patients in several specialties form childhood cancer and blood diseases, to cardiovascular and general surgery.

Working together to develop innovative therapies

Comer Children’s Hospital joins an existing collaboration between Evanston-based NorthShore University HealthSystem and Advocate Children’s Hospital that started in July 2018.

Previously, the two organizations had plans to merge, but the deal was called off after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) argued it would probably hurt consumers by driving up healthcare costs.

When executives from all three systems decided to work together, pediatrics emerged as the most important area to focus on.

“It’s just a different business relationship model,” said Mike Farrell, president of Advocate Children’s and the organization’s joint venture with pediatrics at North Shore. “As you think about where health care is going, size and scale makes a real difference.”

By sharing their pool of pediatric patients, physicians will be able to test innovative therapies for children on a larger group and also improve training for healthcare professionals. “If we all work in isolation, it’s virtually impossible,” said Dr. John Cunningham, physician in chief at Comer and chair of the pediatrics department at UChicago Medicine.

Working with doctors from two major health organizations, Cunningham explained, will enable him and his colleagues to bring novel therapeutics and diagnostics faster to the market and, most importantly, to children.

Cunningham’s theory is being confirmed by trends in the health space where merger and acquisitions are starting to become the norm. More and more organizations are realizing that partnerships allows them scale up and innovate faster.

Take for instance University of Chicago Medical Center and Lurie Children’s Hospital. The two joined forces last year to develop a breakthrough treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, which is the most common form of childhood cancer. The treatment, approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), uses a patient’s own modified cells to battle a the cancer.

Another example?

While this isn’t a merger, Advocate Children’s Hospital is a partner in a national study on teen depression conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago. An Internet-based depression prevention program for adolescents (age 13 to 19), “Project CATCH IT” was designed to prevent depression stemmed from body image, peer pressure, or academic expectations.

Statistics also show how much the pediatrics area depends on these collaboration.

Illinois, plagued by pediatric cancer

About 15,000 children and teens are diagnosed with cancer each year in the U.S. And Illinois has the highest pediatric cancer rate in the Midwest, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The cancer types with the highest incidence rates are leukemias, brain tumors, and lymphomas.

Less than 80 percent of five year-old cancer patients survive and those who make it require lifelong monitoring by specialists.

When it comes to child mortality, black children in Illinois are at more than twice the risk of dying compared to their white peers. Impoverished children tend to be sicker, too. In Illinois, 40% of children live in low-income families, with limited access to healthcare, housing, or nutritious food.

The state is currently plagued by a polio-like illness called acute flaccid myelitis (AFM)

Partnerships between clinics could also make outbreaks easier to manage.

AFM affects the nervous system of kids, weakening their muscles and, in some cases, leading to paralysis. So far, at least ten cases were reported in Illinois among children, according to the state’s Department of Public Health.

The symptoms can mislead parents into believing their child has a respiratory virus. Telltale signs of AFM include sudden arm or leg weakness, facial droop, difficulty moving the eyes, difficulty swallowing, or slurred speech.

On a positive note, school-age children in Illinois are among the healthiest in the country. More than a dozen schools were named among “America’s Healthiest Schools” by The Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

 


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