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HealthPartners Institute gets $1.5M federal grant to develop tool for spotting, treating kidney disease

Similar tool has helped HealthPartners significantly reduce risk of heart disease over 10 years

September 20, 2018

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a common condition affecting 26 million Americans, and many people do not know they have it. But a new $1.5 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease will allow HealthPartners Institute to create a practical tool that helps identify CKD earlier and keep it from getting worse.

This tool is a computer program called Wizard® that is already being used to lower patients' risk for heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions.

“We’re building on existing technology to help clinicians find and treat chronic kidney disease earlier which can help to prevent the need for kidney dialysis and transplants,” said JoAnn Sperl-Hillen, MD, senior investigator at HealthPartners Institute and leader of the study. “The new tool will help primary care clinicians and patients have discussions together about the best ways to prevent CKD from getting worse and suggest when referrals to specialists may be best.”

Guided by computer algorithms, the program uses clinical data in the electronic health record to find worrisome disease indicators and risk factors. It alerts the clinician when he or she logs into the medical record during a patient appointment, prompting a conversation about CKD prevention and management.

HealthPartners researchers, in collaboration with nephrologists at Hennepin Healthcare and the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, will use the latest federal funds to program the clinical decision support tool, put it in the electronic health record and study how well it works. Clinicians and patients in 15 clinics will use the tool in daily patient care. Researchers will then compare the number of patients that are found to have CKD and treated appropriately in those clinics to patients at 15 clinics that do not have access to the new technology.

Proven success, promising future

Recently, a study published in the July issue of Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association showed that a similar version of the Wizard® technology significantly lowered 10-year risk of heart disease by 2 percent, a significant improvement in a country where 610,000 people die of heart disease each year.

All told, HealthPartners Institute has received about $33 million in federal funds to study and implement clinical decision support in primary care through the tool called Wizard®. It has been used in more than 9 million visits on more that 2 million patients across multiple health systems in the country.

“We already know that the technology can improve care for people with diabetes and risk of heart disease. Three years from now when this study is over, I expect we will know if it improves outcomes for people with chronic kidney disease,” Sperl-Hillen added. “This could help to lower costs associated with late-stage treatment for kidney disease.”

About HealthPartners Institute

HealthPartners Institute is part of HealthPartners, the largest consumer-governed, non-profit health care organization in the nation with a mission to improve health and well-being in partnership with members, patients and the community. HealthPartners Institute supports this mission through research, education and practice. The Institute annually conducts 400+ research studies, provides continuing medical education to 24,000 health professionals and trains 575 medical residents and fellows and 1,200 medical and advanced practice students. The Institute also supports clinical quality improvement and patient education programs. Its integration with HealthPartners’ hospitals, clinics and health plan strengthens the Institute’s ability to discover and develop evidence-based solutions and translate them into practice. Based in Minneapolis, the Institute’s work impacts care, health and well-being across the region and nation as well as internationally. For more information, visit

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