Health Summit Highlights Connections Between Humans, Animals, Environment


OVERLAND PARK – There was some brainstorming going on at the One Health Summit here earlier this week at Johnson County Community College.

For example, Jewel Scott, executive director of the Civic Council of Great Kansas City, an organization that includes CEOs from some of the area’s leading companies, asked participants to imagine what might happen if a local start-up devised a way to cheaply and easily detect trace amounts of birth control, cancer drugs and other pharmaceuticals from drinking water as it leaves household faucets.

“That would be huge,” she said. “If we knew what was in there, it might be a huge public health issue. We just don’t know right now.”

The fourth annual summit and featured various panel discussions focused on the intersections of animal and human health and the environment.

Organized by KansasBio, a nonprofit that promotes the bioscience industry, the event drew about 130 people.

The discussions about human health included presentations by entrepreneurs with ideas and products designed to improve safety and customer satisfaction in hospitals, critical elements, they said, of maintaining Medicare reimbursements for the facilities.

Presenters also discussed emerging strengths in the Kansas City area around medical-device manufacturing and research on practices that produce the best health outcomes for patients.

Leaders of a new collaboration led by the Innovation Center at the University of Missouri-Kansas City talked about the center’s potential to spur innovations in health-information technology.

Scott’s point about the drinking water came during a presentation on the Heartland Civic Collaborative, which involves business leaders in the four-state region working together on four main areas of mutual interest: water, transportation, entrepreneurship and life sciences.

“Clearly, by coming together we can be much stronger than any one community can be,” said Civic Council Chairman Bill Berkley, chief executive of Tension Corp., which produces envelopes.

The collaborative held a life sciences forum in Kansas City in December and Scott said the group has developed an action plan.

Area small businesses represented at the summit included PatientsVoices of Parkville, Mo., and InnovaPrep, which is headquartered in Drexel, Mo.

PatientsVoices does phone interviews with patients and aggregates their responses so that hospital administrators and front-line caregivers can target weaknesses in their quality of care, said founder Mary Kay O’Connor.

Information such as that is as important as ever now, she said, because of the federal Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAPS) survey. Poor scores can affect a hospital’s Medicare reimbursement rate, she said.

The federal survey information is publicly available on Medicare’s Hospital Compare website, O’Connor said the survey, for instance, might highlight that a hospital is doing poorly in pain management, but without pinpointing the root of the problem.

“So, a hospital executive says to the nurse manager in the orthopedic unit, ‘We know there is a lot of pain going on there, so make that better,” O’Connor said. “And the nurse manager is like, ‘I don’t know, I could guess.’”

With PatientsVoices, O’Connor said, they might discover that the real problem with pain management was in the cardiac unit. And, she said, floor staff would know that the patients’ main complaint was that it took too long for nurses to answer a call for pain medication. By identifying the specific cause of the problem, solutions could then be found to solve it.

InnovaPrep serves an array of industries, said Chief Executive Dave Alburty, but the company’s sampling technology is of particular use to hospitals because it can help them detect microbes that can sicken patients with infections such as staph or Legionnaire’s disease.

Avoiding those infections also is important to a hospital’s Medicare payments, he said, because the program does not pay for extra costs of treatment caused by hospital-acquired infections.

Dr. Wayne Carter said research from the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute showed that as of last year the region had 53 medical device manufacturers. That’s a 39 percent increase from 2009.

“They are just popping up,” said Carter, the institute’s chief executive. “It’s really amazing.”

Carter said the Kansas City-area also could build upon the expertise of Dr. John Spertus, a cardiologist and clinical director of outcomes research at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute.

That research helped Spertus co-found Health Outcomes Sciences, an information technology company based in Overland Park.

Discovering the best practices for treating a variety of conditions is a potential area of growth for the area’s life sciences industry, Carter said, especially with potential partners like Cerner Corp., a provider of electronic medical records software, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City.

Jeff Shackelford said the activities of the health-information technology companies were very much in line with the mission of the Digital Sandbox KC, an effort led by UMKC to commercialize innovations and help start-up tech companies.

Shackelford is director of the partnership, which is reviewing 95 submissions it received in its first round of grant applications.

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