A project that began in 2016 through a partnership with Renown Health and the Desert Research Institute (DRI), Healthy Nevada has gained national attention for its approach to population health. The study involves harvesting DNA from a significant population, providing individuals with information on their health risks as well data to study population health issues and concerns. According to Dr. Anthony Slonim, president and CEO of Renown Health, the program has a multi-faceted goal.
“We hope to improve the health of the community,” explained Slonim. “We hope to provide individuals with improved understanding of their health and their healthcare risks so they can change their behavior. And, we hope that we can make our community, our state and, potentially, our nation healthier as a result of this data.”
That’s where the Desert Research Institute comes in. The collaboration between DRI and Renown Health has been dubbed Renown Institute for Health Innovation (Renown IHI) and Dr. Slonim serves as its president. Dr. Joe Grzymski serves as co-director of the institute and is also the senior director of the DRI Applied Innovation Center.
“The Healthy Nevada Project is a large population health study looking at health determinants,” explained Grzymski. “The most influential [health determinants], believe it or not, are not how good your doctor is or healthcare in general. It’s your socioeconomic status and behavior patterns you’ve learned over the course of your life. Then, we overlay on those, determinants of the environment, which has a modulating impact; think smoking, drinking, asbestos and hazardous jobs. Then [we look at] genetics. Genetics is the new one that has the potential to help people understand their risk.”
For business, this project has the potential to be a game changer when it comes to understanding healthcare needs and anticipating future costs for employees.
“The costs of healthcare continue to go up,” said Slonim. “Most healthcare [provided] in the United States is self-insured, that means you, as an employer, pay the bill. If I can make your employees healthier and reduce the cost of healthcare, that’s huge for the business community.”
The program itself is being released in phases. The first phase, which launched in September of 2016, saw 10,000 people in Washoe County sign up within 48 hours. The second phase rolled out in March of last year and expanded the program, signing up an additional 40,000 Northern Nevadans. In addition, the second phase project partnered with Helix, a company that provides more in-depth DNA data to participants. The next phase has a goal of signing up 25,000 people in Las Vegas between January and June of this year. Then, in July, Renown IHI hopes to take the program to three surrounding states. Each consequent phase gathers more data for population health while also providing individuals personalized health information.
“There are certain genetic conditions that are treatable and increase risk,” explained Grzymski. “We’re just starting to understand the importance of genetics in helping modulate outcomes.”
He added that the Healthy Nevada project has macro and micro purposes. “We cover both,” he said. “We return results to the individual but then we try to inform the medical and research community on much bigger questions. What is it that allows one person to go through life and not get sick and another person who does everything the doctor tells them to and they end up developing cancer? To really get a better understanding of that, you need participation of a large portion of the population.”
The project has already returned results revealing, among others, the risk of breast or ovarian cancer for individual participants as well as broader range data, such as a higher risk of certain health issues, specific to Northern Nevada. The Southern Nevada phase will provide further insight into the health make-up of the Silver State.
“People are lining up to help us with this because they see what it does in terms of literacy, reducing healthcare expense, improving people’s lives and driving the health of the community,” said Slonim. “That’s the business proposition. Businesses want to work in a healthy community.”