LEAP Project will study workforce innovations in primary care practices

A new national program funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) will study how high-functioning primary care practices use resources to maximize the contributions of health professionals and staff.

The Primary Care Team: Learning from Effective Ambulatory Practices – known as the LEAP Project – will operate from a national program office at the MacColl Center for Health Care Innovation at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle.

The program recognizes that millions of Americans are poised to enter the health system through implementation of the Affordable Care Act at a time when a shortage of primary care providers threatens accessibility and quality of care. The project will analyze up to 30 practices to identify changes in policy, workforce, culture, education and training that can improve practice operation. The hope is that innovative workforce models can be replicated and widely adopted.

Ed Wagner, MD, MPH, and Margaret Flinter, PhD, APRN, serve as co-directors of The Primary Care Team. Wagner is director of the MacColl Center and Flinter, a family nurse practitioner by clinical background, is senior vice president and clinical director of the Community Health Center, Inc., a statewide Federally Qualified Health Center in Connecticut, and director of its Weitzman Center for Innovation.

“The foundation’s mission is to improve health and healthcare, and we cannot succeed unless we address the shortage of primary care services,” said John Lumpkin, MD, MPH, the RWJF's senior vice president and director of the Health Care Group.  “The nation will not be able to train new primary care providers quickly enough to meet the need, so part of the solution must be to use the workforce we have more effectively. This new program will identify ways to do that.”

Wagner added: "We are delighted that this project will allow us to study some of the nation’s finest primary care practices and spread their staffing innovations to others.”

“This project is particularly important because it recognizes that there is tremendous diversity in primary care settings across the country,” Flinter said, “from small private practices to large health systems to community health centers.  We need all of these practices to perform at the highest level.”

A national advisory committee chaired by Thomas S. Bodenheimer, MD, MPH, adjunct professor at the University of California, San Francisco's School of Medicine will develop and apply the criteria for selecting exemplary primary care practices, which will represent a variety of settings, practice configurations and locations. A research team will conduct site visits, after which representatives from the sites will convene in a learning community to share best practices and help create a toolkit that can be used by others.

Initial RWJF funding will support The Primary Care Team through June 2014.

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