Altarum Launches AHRQ-Funded Cooperative in Michigan to Support Rural Practices in Preventing Heart Disease

March 31, 2021

As the health system moves rapidly to administer Covid-19 vaccines to millions of Americans, another ongoing public health crisis continues in the background—each day, thousands of Americans die from heart disease and stroke, conditions which in many cases are preventable.

Altarum is leading a three-year project funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, as part of its EvidenceNOW: Building State Capacity initiative, to reduce the number of heart attacks and strokes in Michigan by helping rural primary care providers integrate and implement the best available evidence and treatment for hypertension and smoking cessation, the leading risk factors of heart disease.

Residents of rural Michigan face disparities that put them at greater risk for heart disease. They are more likely to smoke and approximately half self-report having high blood pressure compared to the state average of 35 percent. They are more likely to have been diagnosed with heart disease and to have suffered from a stroke compared to their urban counterparts. Rural residents also have more difficulty accessing care due to provider shortages and lack of public transportation, resulting in longer travel times that can lead patients to forgo needed care.

The new project, called Healthy Hearts for Michigan, is a statewide cooperative that brings together experts in quality improvement to support providers in enhancing their treatment of hypertension and smoking cessation. It also provides a structure for key stakeholders working to improve heart health in Michigan to collaborate and coordinate their efforts, share best practices, and support dissemination of evidence-based resources statewide.

Cooperative members and supporting organizations include the American Medical Association, the Michigan Center for Rural Health, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Unit and Tobacco Section, Northwestern University, and Upper Peninsula Health Care Solutions. Clinical advisors include New York University, Western Michigan University, and independent rural practices in Michigan.

Rural providers particularly need support from cooperatives like Healthy Hearts for Michigan because they operate on thin margins with limited resources for administrative and clinical enhancements that contribute to better patient outcomes, greater efficiency, and lower costs.

The cooperative will provide physicians at more than 50 rural clinics with support on clinical interventions to improve hypertension and reduce smoking; education on evidence for aspirin therapy, blood pressure control, cholesterol management and smoking cessation; optimization of health IT and effectively using electronic health records to manage care; and telehealth to improve access and provide remote monitoring. Educational tools and resources will be made broadly available and disseminated through cooperative member organizations helping to extend the impact of the program statewide.

Altarum also will use its proprietary ACE Measure tool, which measures patient engagement, an important predictor of how well patients with a chronic disease manage their condition.

As a leader in clinical quality improvement for Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries, Altarum has helped more than 6,000 clinicians in more than 500 practices drive transformation in health care that impacts millions of patients. Our prior work on the Great Lakes Practice Transformation Network, a CMS-funded collaboration among 36 universities, health systems, and independent practices, has saved more than $49 million in health care costs.


Carrie Frye
Project Manager, Delivery Systems Transformation
Katie Schmit
Long-Term Care Project Manager, Delivery System Transformation