August 29, 2016

Summer symposia yield partnerships with two institutions in Taiwan

The University of Michigan Medical School can now count the leading clinical and research institutions in Taiwan among its prominent international partners.

New relationships with Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, Taiwan’s largest health system, and Academia Sinica, the country’s premier research institution, promise collaboration opportunities to advance science and health all over the world.

Leaders from UMMS and Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Taiwan meet during a symposium to formalize a new institutional partnership. From left: Ming-Huei Cheng, MD, Chang Gung Memorial Hospital Superintendent; Joseph Kolars, MD, UMMS Senior Associate Dean; Shih-Tseng Lee, MD, Chairman of the Chang Gung Memorial Foundation Steering Committee; and Kevin Chung, MD, UMHS Chief of Hand Surgery.

“We’ve been working on establishing these partnerships for close to 10 years, so to see it coming together is extremely gratifying,” said Kevin Chung, Chief of Hand Surgery at UMMS, who organized and led a group of UM delegates to two symposia in Taiwan this summer.

“I believe we’ve laid the groundwork for this to grow and for other institutions in Taiwan to come on board, too. Our long-term vision is really to have a UM-Taiwan platform, starting with these two preeminent institutions,” he said.

Academia Sinica: A leading research institution

It’s not a school, but Taiwan’s top research institution has close connections with the country’s leading research universities. Along with mathematics, humanities and physical science, the life sciences are a major focus, with particular emphasis on epigenetics, fundamental disease processes, and cutting-edge data science.

While it was primarily UM clinicians who visited Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, a different group of basic scientists visited Academia Sinica to share research and establish new partnerships. The back-to-back visits took place June 27 through July 1, 2016.

“It’s not just the top scientific institution in Taiwan, but is truly among the best in the world. Its researchers have lengthy publication records and incredible pedigree,” Dr. Chung said. “We’ve now been to Academia Sinica twice and we’re hoping a team from there could visit us next year.”

Chang Gung Memorial: Long-standing UM ties

With seven individual hospitals comprising some 10,000 beds, Chang Gung Memorial is Taiwan’s biggest healthcare institution, serving up to 20% of the country’s entire population. It is the largest hospital system ever to be accredited by the Joint Commission International, and it has deeply rooted connections with the University of Michigan.

Chang Gung Memorial’s first administrator, Chin-Un “Kimma” Chang, earned a master’s in health administration at UM in 1965 before returning to Taiwan and helping to reimagine and modernize the country’s entire healthcare system.

“My goal was to make Taiwan one of the leading health care countries in Asia,” Chang said in a 2005 UM alumni publication, “and it all began by building modern hospitals.”

The first non-physician hospital administrator in Taiwan, he established the 3,000-plus bed Chang Gung Memorial, Linkou, the largest of Chang Gung’s seven hospitals, and started an academic program for hospital administrators. In addition, he helped develop software for hospitals, and founded two professional associations, and played an instrumental role in establishing Taiwan’s single-payer National Health Insurance plan in 1995. Today, nearly all of Taiwan’s 23 million citizens use it.

“The country has this national database covering nearly 100% of the people. They want us to work with them to explore issues like resource allocation and health policy,” said Dr. Chung. “It’s an amazing opportunity to measure efficiencies and outcomes.”

A $3M investment in future collaborations

Chang Gung Memorial has allocated $3 million in funding to establish collaborations and fund research projects between their own physicians and U-M faculty, money to be distributed over the next three years; many UM delegates came away from the Chang Gung symposium with both partners and potential projects.

“The investigators we brought really connected with colleagues there. Each member came back with an identified partner and a great idea for future research,” said Dr. Joseph Kolars,  Senior Associate Dean for Education and Global Initiatives and Director of Global REACH. “Given their universal healthcare system and their advanced capabilities – both intellectually and technologically – I’m confident both institutions stand to learn a great deal from one another.”

The potential for mutual benefit was key in establishing the relationship, said Dr. Chung, who expects the first-round grants with Taiwanese partners to be announced this fall.

“We didn’t go to Taiwan and say, ‘We’re here to help you and we’ll take it from here.’ Instead, we made it clear that we’re to collaborate and work together to improve health,” he said. “Relationships like this require mutual respect and one of the things they told us was that they appreciated our sense of humility.

“The doctors we met at Chang Gung really shared those values,” Dr. Chung continued. “That, as much as anything, really helped create this opportunity. Chang Gung has not had an international partnership on this level before. It’s a major first.”

U-M deligates and counterparts from Taiwan's Academia Sinica pose for a photo during this summer's symposium.