D’Youville College, School of Health Professions

Recently I had a great discussion with Dr. Anthony Billittier, the Dean of the newly created School of Health Professions at D’Youville College in Buffalo, New York.  For those unfamiliar with D’Youville College, it’s history began in 1908 when it was founded by the Grey Nuns of the Sacred Heart.  It was the first college in western New York to offer baccalaureate degrees for women.  After 100 years, it’s mission has expanded to 45 degree programs to over 3,000 undergraduate and graduate students of all faiths, cultures and backgrounds.

Dean School of Health Professions, D'Youville College
Anthony Billittier M.D.

Continuing its innovation, the college recruited Dr. Billittier as the first dean of the newly created School of Health Professions.  His background and enthusiasm is well know to me for many years.  He was the Commissioner of Health for Erie County from 2000 to 2011.  As the health guardian for the county, he streamlined the department and energized preventive health measures across the region.  Nationally he had a most important, yet painful task of identifying crash victims in Flight 3407.  This tragic event in airline history led to significant changes in FAA regulations governing pilot flight hours.

D’Youville College is well know in the western New York region as a top provider for dedicated and well-trained nurses at all levels.  From bachelor degree nurses to doctorates of nursing practice, the school headed by Dr. Judith Lewis has played an important role in improving public health and lowering healthcare costs.

The new school of Health Professions follows this tradition with a focus on technology and healthcare analytics.  Some of the new programs that Dr. Billittier has developed are clearly directed towards training a 21st century healthcare worker.  In typical humble fashion, Dr. Tony was quick to inform me that these new programs are due to his dedicated faculty.  And that he played only a small part.

Yet for his part, Dr. Billittier brings to the table a philosophy, which I believe, is critical, if we as a nation are to improve public health and lower costs.  When Dr. Tony was Commissioner of Health, and even now as Dean, he insisted upon continuing to work as a part-time emergency department physician.  He works on weekend hours only, which ironically is the busiest time for an ER.  Plus he performs this work in one of western New York’s busiest hospitals, the Erie County Medical Trauma Center.

In my opinion, this commitment can only strengthen his classroom experience, serve as a beacon for students, and keep him at the cutting edge of finding solutions to real world problems in healthcare delivery.  As an example of his work leading to fruitful benefits, he is the principal investigator of a CMS grant for over $2.0 million to train community health workers.  These community workers are selected on their ability to interact with people in their local neighborhood.  They have a trusted relationship with their peers and are more likely to influence their neighbor’s health habits.

As Dr. Tony pointed out, the underserved community has three causes for poor health:

  • lack of access in locating the right provider,
  • lack of medical knowledge tailored to their specific illness,
  • and lack of motivation to seek early preventive care in a complex system.

The goals for his ongoing grant is to motivate high utilizers of hospital emergency services to instead form relationships with primary care providers.  This will improve both personal health and costs.

Another initiative which impacts healthcare delivery and worker training was Dr. Billittier’s Inter-professional Education Collaboration Program, shortened to: IPEC.  This exciting and greatly appreciated program uses professional actors from the  Kavinoky Theater to assist in training healthcare providers.

Many schools use simulated training exercises employing robots, patient manikins, or computer generated graphics.  In this approach, Dr. Tony engages the services of the theater actors who are highly trained in acting out a typical encounter as patients afflicted with certain medical illnesses.  Not only do these actors play the role of a patient, but they are accompanied by team actors who play the part of a distraught spouse, or an overbearing parent.  In this way, students get to examine “patients” in a  controlled environment which not only mimicks real life, but also provides for ideal teacher student interaction.

Lastly in my opinion, one of Dr. Tony’s greatest innovations is the launch of his accredited B.S. degree in Health Analytics.  This degree program with already enrolled students, set to begin in September of 2014, breaks new ground in education.

For the past decade, the United States has invested heavily in converting medical information from paper formats stored in various medical office, hospital and laboratory, siloes into digital formats that are portable and readily accessible.  This endeavor has come at great cost and has spun out numerous careers for workers specialized in IT services, EMR installation, and support.  However the real payoff to storing terabytes of numbers and values is the ability to transform that data into meaningful information that improves health and lowers healthcare costs.

Unfortunately there is a shortage of workers to do that transformation and analysis.  In my experience, the big name universities are more focused on training professionals who consume health information rather than transform health data.

The role of health analytics requires a training program that merges the health sciences with the computer sciences.  It requires working with complex computer programs to sort, organize and format disparate numerical data into understandable forms for analysis in even more complex statistical software programs.  During this transformation, the worker must understand the fundamentals of healthcare management and delivery so that the final output is meaningful.  The need for this specialized activity is great.  Just as the reward for workers who complete this program is also high.

It’s estimated that graduates with a beginning degree in this field can find employment with starting salaries of $50,000 plus.  The future for such workers in an era where information analysis is king seems boundless.

For all these reasons, I congratulate D’Youville College for their long standing history in healthcare innovation and in particular to my colleague Dr. Anthony Billittier for his passion, commitment and lasting desire to improve public health.

At the close of our chat, Dr. Tony said something with which I completely agree.  “D’Youville College is big enough to make a difference; yet small enough to change.”  Indeed in my opinion, this is what defines state-of-the-art innovation.