UNC School of Medicine awarded $6 million grant for Better Back Care program

The award is part of the second round of Health Care Innovation Awards, which are funding grants to applicants who will implement the most compelling new ideas to deliver better health, improved care and lower costs. The Better Back Care program will be directed by Casazza and Amy Shaheen, MD, an associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine.

UNC School of Medicine awarded $6 million grant for Better Back Care program click to enlarge Brian A. Casazza, MD
UNC School of Medicine awarded $6 million grant for Better Back Care program click to enlarge Amy Shaheen, MD

Media contact: Tom Hughes, 919-966-6047,

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine has been selected by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' Innovation Center for a $6 million prospective award for its Better Back Care program.

UNC is one of only 39 awardees nationally and its Better Back Care program is the only spine program to be chosen among the second round winners of the Health Care Innovation Awards.  UNC’s Better Back Care program creates a new model of care for patients with back pain that will improve the patient’s experience and outcomes, reduce the cost of care and deliver an innovative method of financing care.

“Back pain is common, debilitating, and expensive, and its contribution to poor patient outcomes and increasing health system expenditure has grown rapidly in the last decade alone. Treatment for back pain often does not follow evidence-based guidelines and is subject to overuse of diagnostic imaging, injections and surgery,” said Brian Casazza, MD, director of the UNC Hospitals Spine Center and program director for Better Back Care.  

The Better Back Care program will create a medical neighborhood linking approximately 60 primary care providers with the UNC spine program, an existing multidisciplinary team of 10 specialty providers employing evidence-based, patient-centered approaches. This medical neighborhood will adopt evidence-based, coordinated care of demonstrated effectiveness for patients with new onset low back pain through guideline adherence, patient education and shared decision making, improved access to care, and care coordination. Nurse patient navigators will play a critical role by providing clinical support and care coordination for patients in the neighborhood to ensure patients receive the right care at the right time.

“The UNC Hospitals Spine Center provides back care that is patient-centered, high quality, and cost effective. With this $6 million award, we will be able to expand this approach to the patients of 60 top primary care physicians in the Triangle. The impact to patients, their families and the North Carolina economy of spine disease can't be understated. This is a terrific opportunity to improve care of patients suffering from back pain,” said Matthew Ewend, MD, chair of neurosurgery in the UNC School of Medicine.

The Better Back Care program will be directed by Casazza and Amy Shaheen, MD, an associate professor in the UNC School of Medicine.

“We know the primary care providers in our area provide excellent care for many conditions,” Shaheen said. “This award will allow us to demonstrate that high quality and high value can be delivered seamlessly all the way from the primary care office to the subspecialist office when needed.”

The Better Back Care program was developed with support from the UNC Health Care and UNC School of Medicine Center for Innovation.  Collaborators for the program include the Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, the North Carolina Area Health Education Centers Program and Community Care of North Carolina.

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