GREENVILLE — Greenville Health System was not only named an academic health center this week; it joined with partners Clemson University, Furman University and the University of South Carolina to announce a unique “clinical university model” that will help pave the way for breakthroughs in health-care delivery, access and affordability.

GHS’ hospital-centric model is the first of its kind in the nation.

“This kind of singular vision to transform health care simply hasn’t happened before in the U.S.,” said Spence Taylor, GHS vice president of academics, at the packed-room announcement on Tuesday. “GHS and its university partners will be a catalyst for a new way of thinking, a model of change that breaks down boundaries and rebuilds a new approach that can leverage resources, harness new ideas and create a synergy that creates tangible real-world results.” Taylor is the architect of the new model and himself a nationally acclaimed academic surgeon.

“Health care is at a crucial crossroads,” said GHS President and CEO Michael Riordan. “We believe that the clinical university model is a game-changer that will improve patient care, not only at GHS, but across the state and even at a national level. By focusing our efforts in this collaborative powerhouse, we can leverage resources to accomplish more than any one of us could do by ourselves.”

Only about two percent of health-care systems in the U.S. are academic health centers. According to the Association of Academic Health Centers, a center is typically a university with a medical school and at least one other health profession school that owns or is affiliated with a teaching hospital or health system.

GHS is the first shared academic health center with a health-care system and multiple universities. Unlike most hospitals, academic health centers are teaching hospitals that provide a range of care from routine to highly complex; develop new technologies and treatments; provide patients first-in-region access to clinical trials; conduct research and educate new health-care providers.

“GHS in association with its university partners presents a forward-thinking model for many of the challenges facing health care today,” said Steven Wartman, M.D., president and CEO of the Association of Academic Health Centers. “It is an innovative approach, and I look forward to following their progress in the coming years.”

University partners said this novel approach to higher/professional education will limit duplication of expensive infrastructure while helping the universities fulfill their vital education missions.

This applied-sciences approach pulls the best of academic scholarship, medical research and front-line experience to find better solutions, said Taylor. The initiative’s immediate priorities are helping make health care more affordable, resolving health-care delivery gaps and improving workforce pipelines to deliver ready-to-work graduates.

“It’s not enough to discover breakthrough treatments for diabetes; we have to find a reliable system of ensuring that patients have access to those treatments and use them appropriately,” said Taylor.

The GHS clinical university model will leverage the existing competencies and resources of its primary academic partners rather than duplicating infrastructure. This unique collaboration allows GHS and its academic partners to concentrate on the academic and research initiatives that best meet the region’s health-care and workforce needs.

Even before the adoption of the clinical university model, GHS — had it been a traditional college or university — would be among the largest in South Carolina, providing applied education and training to more than 5,000 students each year. GHS has more clinical trials than any other health-care system in the state. GHS faculty members already publish more than 170 peer-reviewed publications and present more than 250 regionally and nationally peer-reviewed publications annually.

Through the clinical university model, GHS will work with its primary academic partners but also collaborate with approximately 60 colleges and universities to provide clinical education required for student degree completion. This collaboration includes not only graduate and professional studies but also health-care career pipeline programs for undergraduates.

Teaching and learning in the clinical university model will be based on the current, real-world health-care needs of the community. Students will leave uniquely ready to enter the workforce rather than needing the additional training or clinical integration that may be required of graduates from other programs.

Because students are embedded in the health-care delivery system from their first days on the GHS campus, they experience an interprofessional approach to education from practicing clinicians that hones their academic skills as well as critical team skills. The clinical university model helps offer the right experience at the right time in each student’s educational journey.

But the excitement of GHS and its university partners may be dwarfed by the excitement of business leaders, who see the growing initiative as an enormous boon for the Upstate economy.

That number includes Ben Haskew, president and CEO of the Greenville Chamber of Commerce, who along with 50 other business leaders visited Pittsburgh last week as part of an intercommunity leadership visit.

“While there, we learned about the impact their academic health center, the University of Pittsburgh, had on their community, and it was truly impressive,” he said. “And — I’m very proud to say — they were impressed by our new innovative model and were interested in seeing how it might be harnessed elsewhere.”

“From a business point of view, this is incredibly exciting news for the Upstate,” said J. Mac Holladay, former director for the S.C. Development Board. He is also founder and CEO of Market Street Services, which has facilitated strategies for Austin, Nashville and more than 150 communities in 33 states.

“Economic impact studies show that academic health centers are awarded approximately half of all governmental research funding for health care,” he said. “That can grow $100 million annually in some locations. This research funding benefits the community both directly and indirectly and can serve as catalyst for spinoff quality job creation and new investment.”

Holladay said the GHS academic health center will have a direct and positive impact on the area’s economic health for decades to come.

“Even beyond the direct jobs growth and projected entrepreneurial spinoffs, having an academic health center in your own backyard will carry significant weight when recruiting new industries to your area,” said Holladay. “You cannot overstate its significance and long-term impact on your area’s economic health.”