Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Addressing Health Disparities

The Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research within NIH is contacting with the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health in Ann Arbor to develop a multidisciplinary network of experts to examine ways to reduce health disparities. The plan for the new “Network on Inequality, Complexity, and Health” (NICH) will be to explore new approaches to understanding health disparities and the effect this issue has on population groups.

The network with researchers from the fields of economics, biology, ecology, computer science, education, sociology, mathematics and epidemiology will study how to apply systems science to this field. They will use state-of-the-science conceptual and computational models to identify where interventions could impact the elimination of health disparities. The computational models functioning as computer simulated laboratories will look at the causes of health disparities to find the best possible solutions.

Using systems science methods will help investigators examine the interrelationships of variables at multiple levels and time periods. For example, factors such as access to healthcare, neighborhood environment, educational opportunities, physiology and genetics may interact over the course of a person’s life to influence risk for diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular problems.

Besides exploring hypothesized causes of health inequalities, the researchers will look at simulations that may reveal unexpected causes and this will help researchers predict which interventions have the most potential for reducing or eliminating health disparities.

NICH will produce reports and publications, including possible books or special journal issues on the network’s collaborative work plus include work of other experts. Publications will break new ground by illustrating, explaining, promoting, and translating the application of complex systems approaches to critical health disparities areas that may require trans-disciplinary development.

In other news, the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities at NIH issued several Requests for Applications (RFA) to develop a NIMHD “Comprehensive Center of Excellence” (RFA-MD-11-003) plus an NIMHD “Exploratory Center of Excellence” (RFA-MD-11-002) to study issues on minority health and health disparities.

The Centers will support infrastructure and capacity building, build novel partnerships, do research training, do innovative basic biomedical and behavioral clinical or population based research, and provide intervention and prevention studies. For each RFA, the total amount to be awarded in FY 2012 is anticipated to be $24 to $28 million with 16 to 18 awards to be made.

AHRQ’s 2010 “National Health Care Disparities Report” current as of February 2011, finds that although improvements in the quality of care is being made, gaps based on race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status continue to persist.

The AHRQ report points out that the adoption and use of health IT can be an effective way to manage healthcare costs and improve the quality of care for racial and ethnic subgroups. Information is the key to making progress to address health disparities in healthcare in the U.S.

CDC in their new “CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report—United States 2011” underscores the need for more data. The report, the first of a series of consolidated assessments, highlights health disparities by sex, race and ethnicity, income, education, disability status, and other social characteristics. The report points out that although substantial progress has been made to improve the health for most U.S. residents in recent years yet persistent disparities still exist.

CDC’s report complements the contents of the annual “National Healthcare Disparities Report” and other periodic reports on health disparity-related objectives being monitored through the “Health People 2020 planning and evaluation process.

In addition, the “National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities” report to be published by HHS in 2011 will provide additional scientific support for efforts to implement policies, programs, professional best practices, and individual actions to help to reduce disparities in the shortest timeframe possible.