Art Kaufman, MD
Art Kaufman, MD, is vice chancellor for community health at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.
Credit: Paul Akmajian

The University of New Mexico and University of Colorado will share in a groundbreaking $15 million federal grant to help primary care practices more effectively promote cardiovascular health, UNM announced Friday.

“If doctors can do a better job of helping their patients tackle lifestyle factors that contribute to heart disease and stroke, people will live longer, healthier lives,” said Arthur Kaufman, MD, vice chancellor for community health at the UNM Health Sciences Center.

“Doctors know that treating hypertension and high cholesterol and getting their patients to quit smoking and lose weight are proven ways of keeping them healthy,” says Robert Rhyne, MD, the project’s co-director. But all too often, primary care doctors are too busy to drive the message home.

The cardiovascular health project addresses “social determinants of health,” factors such as diet, stress, smoking and lack of exercise that over time lead to serious health problems, said Kaufman, who organized “Beyond Flexner 2015,” a major national conference focusing on the social and economic forces underlying ill health that was hosted by the Health Sciences Center in mid-April.

The UNM team will use the grant money to develop public health campaigns, provide coaching to help doctors better communicate with patients and send community health workers into patients’ homes to help them overcome barriers to following medical advice, he says.

“The grant from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is one of eight highly competitive regional awards built upon approaches recommended under Section 5405 of the Affordable Care Act,” Kaufman says. That section, crafted with the help of UNM faculty, was based in part on the university’s pioneering Health Extension Rural Offices program.

UNM will use its $3 million share of the grant to provide support to 50 primary care practices around the state.  The University of Colorado will devote the remaining $12 million to back up 200 practices in their state. Researchers from the two universities will meet soon to trade best practices for improving patient compliance with heart-healthy recommendations, he added.

The inter-university collaboration exemplifies the vision of the Beyond Flexner conference, which brought together nearly 400 clinicians, researchers, educators, policy makers and insurance industry representatives.

Conference attendees pledged to pursue new local, regional and national partnerships to invest in preventive strategies that could dramatically improve health and wellbeing. Future steps could include the creation of a national clearinghouse to compile information about the best ways to tackle the social determinants, Kaufman said.