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New Center Aims to Reduce Health Disparities for Latinos and African Americans

Efforts to boost cancer screening, statin use and pneumonia vaccination

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November 1, 2011 | by Marla Paul

CHICAGO --- The Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has received a three-year $4.3 million dollar federal grant to establish a Research Center of Excellence in Clinical Preventive Services. The Center is one of three nationally established by the United States Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to develop better ways to put prevention into routine practice.

The Northwestern Center will collaborate with a national network of community health centers to explore innovative ways to increase delivery of preventive services to diverse and often underserved populations.  The Center will use its expertise in health communication and information technologies to help providers develop better ways to deliver preventive care and to help patients and families access, understand and act on recommended services.

The three initial projects funded under the Center will focus on research to reduce health disparities for Latinos and African Americans, including how to increase screening for colorectal cancer, the use of statin therapy for patients with a high-risk of heart disease and vaccinations for pneumonia.

For the first Northwestern project, researchers will try to increase colorectal cancer screening at the Erie Family Health Center using electronic health records to identify people who need repeat occult blood screenings. Researchers then will use interventions to encourage people to be screened.

"We are looking for ways to provide the highest level of care possible for these patients," said David Baker, M.D., lead investigator for the grant and chief of general internal medicine and the Michael A. Gertz Professor of Medicine at Northwestern's Feinberg School.

The second project will be a trial at three community health centers serving a diverse, historically underserved population to use electronic health records to identify patients at high risk for heart disease.  Researchers will do outreach to those who are not already receiving statin therapy to lower cholesterol, explain their risk of heart disease and see how many accept the therapy.

The third project will investigate why some older African Americans refuse the pneumonia vaccine. Previous research at Northwestern has shown that 11.4 percent of African American patients refuse the pneumonia vaccine compared to 2.9 percent of whites. "We want to know why that is and develop better educational tools to let people know about the benefits and safety of the vaccine," Baker said.

Researchers also will develop a multimedia program that can be shown to patients in examination rooms to explain the benefits and risks of the vaccine. A pilot study will assess the feasibility of the project and patient and staff acceptance of the intervention.
Topics: University