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  • 2022
  • University collaborations drive innovation and impact in whole-person health
A side-by-side headshot of Jim Whedon, DC, MS and Louis Kazal, Jr., M.D.
Left: Jim Whedon DC, MS Professor and Director of Health Services Research Adjunct Professor, The Dartmouth Institute. Right: Louis Kazal, Jr., M.D. Director of Integrative Medicine, Associate Professor of Community and Family Medicine, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Adjunct Professor, SCU

University collaborations drive innovation and impact in whole-person health

In 2015, two institutions with different backgrounds, located on opposite ends of the nation converged to create an innovative partnership in integrative whole-person healthcare and research. Since success is not a solo activity, SCU and Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Hanover, New Hampshire teamed together allowing the pair to yield a sum greater than two parts with more capacity, stronger creativity, and differing expertise and perspectives to solve problems.

The collaborations have resulted several National Institutes of Health (NIH) and private research grants, produced multiple peer-reviewed publications, and started up a successful clinical innovation, in the form of the Primary Spine Care Project.

Dartmouth College is an Ivy League school and one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the U.S. The college was founded in 1769, when what is now the state of New Hampshire was still an English Colony.

SCU is a progressive integrative health sciences university in Southern California. SCU specializes in holistic healthcare education and integrative whole-person health by challenging convention and embracing collaboration through forward-thinking modern Western healthcare practices, rooted and grounded in ancient Eastern techniques.

“From 2009 – 2014, I was a health services researcher at Dartmouth under an NIH grant,” said Jim Whedon, DC, MS. “In 2015, I joined SCU as Director of Health Services Research and retained an appointment as adjunct professor with Dartmouth. I began collaborations on clinical initiatives and research projects with colleagues at both institutions.”

The collaborations resulted in an innovative and successful partnership in integrative healthcare and research between these two very different and geographically distant schools.

“By partnering and working together, we’ve secured several National Institutes of Health (NIH) and private research grants, produced multiple peer-reviewed publications, and started up a successful clinical innovation, in the form of the Primary Spine Care Project,” said Dr. Whedon.

A glimpse into the future of integrative healthcare

The Primary Spine Care Project is an innovative approach to the treatment of spine-related injuries which promises higher value, with more cost-effective, patient-centered outcomes.

”Recognizing that a significant percentage of patients seen by primary care clinicians are seeking treatment for back pain, there is a great opportunity for a partnership between primary care and primary spine practitioners,” said Louis Kazal, Jr., M.D., Associate Professor of Community and Family Medicine at the Geisel School of Medicine and a practicing family physician at Dartmouth Health. “While primary care clinicians do not specialize in the treatment of back pain, the majority of patients with back pain are initially treated in primary care, it being the fourth leading cause of visits in primary care. Chiropractors are highly trained in this area. Given that evidence-base first-line therapy for low back pain includes chiropractic, it makes intuitive sense to join the two in the same work space to coordinate optimal care. The chiropractor’s training as primary spine care clinician enables them to function as the leader of a spine team within a primary care setting.”

“By leveraging comparative advantage, SCU and Dartmouth are making each other more effective in our research projects, programs, and overall collaborations, said Dr. Whedon. “It’s a glimpse into the future of integrative whole-person healthcare.”

Over the past five and a half years, Dartmouth has seen approximately 13,500 patient visits to the Primary Spine Care program.

The formula for success: mutual benefits and mission-driven alignment to improve healthcare and healthcare access

Connective impact has developed into impactful partnership, funding, and collaboration strategies for both SCU and Dartmouth.

SCU students and faculty alike have access to mentors who are experienced research scientists at Dartmouth. And organizationally, SCU benefits through access to the extensive research resources of an academic medical center with infrastructure. Combined, SCU and Dartmouth are furthering specialized clinical expertise, new paradigms, fresh perspective and asking better questions to develop new solutions to old problems.

Dartmouth benefits by access to the expertise of SCU faculty members with deep experience in integrative healthcare clinical practice and research.

And future patients will benefit from SCU and Dartmouth partnership as a method to drive innovation in the integrated healthcare sector. Bringing together various diverse experts and stakeholders is resulting in ideas that would not have been possible for the two institutions, on their own.

Creative collaborations

“To tackle complex problems, we need creative, encompassing, and outside-the-box solutions that are driven best by cross disciplinary, diverse, and unlikely partnerships,” said Dr. Whedon. Some examples of the problems and solutions that SCU and Dartmouth are advancing, together, include:

  • A current NIH-funded research project exploring “The Association between Cervical Spinal Manipulation and Cervical Artery Dissection in Older and Younger Medicare Beneficiaries”

Cervical artery dissection (CAD), a condition that can lead to stroke, has been observed to be associated with spinal manipulation (SM). This study is the largest and most rigorous evaluation ever conducted of the relationship between CAD and SM.  The results are expected to show that SM is not a significant risk factor for CAD.

SCU Faculty: James Whedon DC, MS; Scott Haldeman DC, MD, PhD, Adjunct Professor, SCU

Dartmouth Faculty: Todd MacKenzie PhD, Professor, and Jon Lurie MD, MS, Professor, Geisel School of Medicine

  • A pending NIH-funded research project, studying “Spinal Manipulative Therapy vs. Prescription Drug Therapy for Care of Aged Medicare Beneficiaries with Neck Pain”

Among older adults with neck pain, this study will compare the value of high risk opioid drugs vs. spinal manipulation with regard to the safety, efficiency and cost of care.

SCU Faculty: Whedon, Anupama Kizhakkeveettil PhD, SCU Professor; Serena Bezdjian, SCU Adjunct Professor; Haldeman, Eric Hurwitz DC, MS, PhD, SCU Adjunct Professor Andrew Toler MS, SCU Adjunct Professor

Dartmouth Faculty: MacKenzie and Lurie

  • Current clinical initiative: Primary Spine Care

SCU Faculty: Whedon, Robb Russell DC, Clinical Chief of Staff, SCU Health

Dartmouth Faculty: Kazal, Justin Goehl DC, MS, Clinical Assistant Professor, Geisel School of Medicine

  • Pending initiative: Chiropractic Research Fellowship

This 3-year fellowship is expected to provide chiropractors with research training at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, along with mentored clinical training in Primary Spine Care at Dartmouth Health’s flagship Primary Care clinic.

SCU Faculty: Whedon, Russell

Dartmouth Faculty: Kazal, Goehl, Lurie, MacKenzie

The SCU/Dartmouth relationship is expected to continue indefinitely, with additional NIH grant funding anticipated.

“Our work to advance healthcare integration is showing that team-based care is a powerful tool in delivering quality and cost-effective care across a range of complex patient problems, as well as how integrated healthcare partnerships work to influence more positive patient outcomes,” said Dr. Whedon.

“This significant, competitive funding from the NIH is evidence that SCU and Dartmouth, together are at the forefront of innovative solutions to improve human health,” said SCU President John Scaringe, DC, EdD, “We’re very proud of the advancement of integrative whole-person healthcare and research that two unlikely, unique partners have come together to produce, which are being recognized as having transformative industry impact by the NIH.”

The NIH is the largest public funder of biomedical research in the world, investing more than $32 billion each year to enhance life, and reduce illness and disability. NIH funded research has led to breakthroughs and new treatments, helping people live longer, healthier lives, and building the research foundation that drives discovery.

For those interested in funding or supporting SCU/Dartmouth research projects, or for information about clinical trials, contact Dr. Melissa Nagare, DC, L.Ac, CCSP, Vice President, Chief Clinical Officer, SCU Health System, at melissanagare@scuhs.edu, or at (562) 902-3386.

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