By Paul Dutton, professor and executive director for the Interdisciplinary Health Policy Institute

The NAU Interdisciplinary Health Policy Institute hosted its fourth annual Colton House Health Policy Roundtable last Friday. The roundtable provides a rare opportunity for leaders from the highest levels in Arizona health policy—legislators, government officials, health professions and medical school deans, hospital administrators, tribal leaders, insurance executives and public health directors—to brainstorm how best to meet the health needs of the state.

This year’s roundtable proved especially urgent.

Implementation of the Affordable Care Act will gain speed in 2014, extending health coverage to as many as half a million Arizonans. What kinds of new models of care delivery will be necessary to meet the new demand? How can the universities most effectively educate the health professionals who will be needed and how do we keep them in Arizona, especially in our rural and underserved areas? How will we maintain and continue to improve health care quality while holding health care inflation in check? What role will wireless technologies and informatics play in the new paradigm?

As you might expect, the Colton House Roundtable participants voiced diverse answers to these questions. Yet all agreed that only through improved collaboration will we be able to meet the challenge of the Affordable Care Act.

Eileen Klein, president of the Arizona Board of Regents, noted the critical role that Arizona’s universities must play in improving the state’s health care system. Toward this end I will be working with President Klein and one representative each from ASU and UA to encourage some of the very partnerships that the Colton House Roundtable participants identified. Our first step will be a series of forums beginning in the fall that will bring university experts together with health authorities in the private and public sectors to chart a way forward.

For example, there is wide consensus that all patients—and especially those who suffer from chronic conditions—benefit greatly from coordinated primary care that is delivered by integrated teams of health professionals. The universities must do a better job at training our health professions and medical students to work effectively in such teams. Insurers should reimburse appropriately for the improved outcomes that integrated care achieves, and government agencies should provide the context—through public health and other measures—to encourage individual health responsibility and population health.

To my eyes, Arizona health leaders have the will. It is a matter of creating the partnerships we need to succeed.