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NIH Addresses Socioeconomic Disparities in Patient Outcomes

NIH has launched a population health management program to fund research projects that address racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic disparities in patient outcomes

By Jacqueline LaPointe

- The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced the launch of a population health management initiative to foster research and spread awareness of racial and ethnic disparities in patient outcomes of surgical care.

Population health program supports surgical disparities, patient outcomes research

NIH’s National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities has partnered with several other NIH centers and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality to carry out the surgical disparities research program.

“Disparities in surgical care can result in poorer functional outcomes, prolonged rehabilitation, recovery and lower quality of life, particularly for disadvantaged population groups,” said Eliseo J. Pérez-Stable, MD, Director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

“Racial and ethnic minority and low-income population groups are often times disproportionately affected by access, availability and affordability to the most advanced health care services.”

The initiative aims to develop insights into how surgical procedures benefit different populations and why positive patient outcomes are not shared equally by all groups.

A study published by NIH found that surgical mortality rates are higher among patient with a lower socioeconomic status despite race, age, access to care, hospital setting, or insurance status. Meanwhile, other researchers reported that between 11 and 30 percent of the global burden of disease needs some type of surgical care management.

“We need to better understand the integral role of optimal access to safe surgical care and medical management, which has not been well studied in health services or health disparities research,” said Pérez-Stable.

The program provides funding opportunities for research projects that intend to address gaps in care delivery for surgical patients. The projects should aim to:

• Improve communication between patients and clinicians to evaluate how it affects disparities;

• Bolster patient engagement and community outreach through technologies that focus on patient education and healthcare decision-making using culturally relevant methods;

• Advance care delivery at healthcare organizations that treat a higher proportion of minority surgical and trauma patients, including evaluations of care regionalization and safety-net hospitals;

• Assess how acute interventions and rehabilitation support affects long-term patient outcomes and how the patient views quality of care;

• And increase patient-centered care by pinpointing goals for postoperative and post-injury recovery as well as following patient values, including advanced healthcare plans and palliative care.

NIH has also designed the surgical disparities research program to build on the progress of the American College of Surgeons (ASC) and its affiliated institutions. The groups are dedicated to increasing access of care, advancing care quality, and improving patient safety across all population groups.

ASC recently created a national research agenda on surgical disparities last May and hosted a symposium to identify research priorities. Patient characteristics, clinician traits, healthcare system and access, clinical care and quality, and post-operative rehabilitation and care were listed as top areas for surgical outcomes research.

“The research agenda put forward by the ACS has provided a tremendous opportunity for NIMHD to advance scientific knowledge of what causes surgical disparities and effective solutions to address them,” said Irene Dankwa-Mullan, MD, Acting Deputy Director of the Division of Extramural Research at NIMHD. “The new research program will examine hypotheses based on published or evidence-based surgical methods that identify new indications or approaches to improving access, care coordination, outcomes, safety and quality of surgical care for health disparity populations.”

Many healthcare researchers and industry groups have been pushing for more understanding on how different populations impact care delivery and hospital quality. From gender, race, socioeconomic status, and so on, evidence has shown that there are gaps in patient care.

NIH aims to use the population health management initiative to develop methods for improving outcomes for surgical patients across different population groups.


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