One of the most persistent challenges facing health research is low participation in clinical trials, a phenomenon that is even more pronounced in Latino and African American communities, and one with significant consequences for efforts to advance our understanding of disease, address disparities in health, and develop new therapies.
In 2009, the Center for Community Health launched an initiative to increase participation in and community awareness of clinical research. This followed more than 18 months of focus groups, surveys, and dialogue with the community to better understand community perceptions regarding medical research and the issues that may prevent individuals from participating. The initiative included a new health research website, promoted via a public awareness campaign that helps potential volunteers understand what is involved in participation in clinical research and search a database of open studies.
URMC is also participating in a national registry of potential research volunteers. Research Match is a website that functions similarly to an online dating service, matching individuals based on profiles they create with studies that may interest them. Since its launch, more people from Rochester have signed on than from any other region of the country.
Over the last few years, the Medical Center has also been reaching out to area physicians to create a consortium of practices that can serve as venues to recruit study volunteers, conduct clinical and health services research, and implement findings – all with the goal of improving patient care and outcomes. The Greater Rochester Practice-Based Research Network (GR-PBRN) has grown to include 75 pediatric, family, and internal medicine practices that represent 30 percent of adults and 80 percent of children in Monroe County.
Accelerating efforts to improve and expand preventive care and encourage healthy lifestyles is a critical factor in health care reform and cost containment. URMC’s new Healthy Living Center will place us at the forefront of these efforts. The Healthy Living Center, located at the Center for Community Health, will focus on the behavioral barriers to improving health.
Supported by a $1.2 million NIH grant, The Healthy Living Center brings together the GR-PBRN, the Center for Community Health, and behavioral scientists to create a multidisciplinary team of researchers to study, design, and deploy innovative clinical and community-based programs. These efforts will focus on helping people improve their health through making meaningful and lasting changes in their lives, such as smoking cessation, stress management, increasing physical activity and improving nutrition, and preventing or delaying diabetes.
The center will also put many of these ideas into practice. Despite the existence of effective and proven methods to improve health, poor diet, smoking, and sedentary lifestyle contribute to 35 percent of all premature deaths and, by some estimates, account for 70 percent of all health care costs. The Healthy Living Center will focus on elements that often determine the success or failure of lifestyle changes: the desire, motivation, and support necessary to help an individual make these changes. Launched for University of Rochester employees, this wellness program will eventually serve as a model to be offered to other Rochester-area employers and referring physicians.
In 2009, the Medical Center also joined a national effort to track the genetic and environmental origins of health problems in children. The National Children’s Study will follow 100,000 children in 105 locations throughout the nation in an effort to develop a clearer understanding of the factors influencing such conditions as autism, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, birth defects, diabetes, asthma, and obesity. A $5.4 million NIH grant will enable Rochester researchers to enroll and collect data for about 1,000 Monroe County families.
URMC is an innovator in community health and many programs developed here have informed similar efforts in other communities. In 2009, the Medical Center and our partners continued this trend, earning accolades for several community health programs:
- VHA, Inc., a national health care alliance, awarded URMC with its 2009 Leadership Award for Community Benefit Excellence in recognition of our work with community partners to address a number of public health challenges, including lead poisoning.
- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded the Coalition to Prevent Lead Poisoning, the University of Rochester, the City of Rochester, Monroe County, and Empire Justice with its 2009 Environmental Justice Achievement Award for efforts to reduce childhood lead poisoning in Monroe County.
- The Healthcare Association of New York State recognized the Health-e-Access telemedicine program with its Community Health Improvement Award for achievements in improving access to health care for children and families in the Rochester area.