The VCU Department of Family Medicine and Population Health ’s commitment to primary care practice-based research has led to new strategies for treating patients and improving the quality of health care.
Working under grants from governmental agencies and private agencies such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Department of Family Medicine is collaborating with other VCU departments and external organizations to develop a multi-disciplinary approach to research.
The following grant-supported research initiatives are currently underway in the department.
Research on social determinants of health
Steven H. Woolf, M.D., M.P.H., and colleagues in the departments of Family Medicine and Population Health, the Division of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, along with other centers have collaborated on a portfolio of studies that examine the important influence of social conditions on health. The theme of this research is to give policymakers and the public a quantitative perspective about the relative importance of social conditions on health in comparison to competing priorities. In two separate studies published in the American Journal of Public Health, Dr. Woolf, Robert Johnson, M.D., and colleagues have calculated that for every life saved by biomedical advances, five would be saved if African-Americans experienced the mortality rate of whites and eight would be saved if all adults had the mortality rate of those with a college education. Woolf’s other studies and commentaries in JAMA and the American Journal of Preventive Medicine have examined the prevalence of poverty in the U.S. and its long-term effects on population health, the importance of setting rational priorities in health care and public policy, and the ethical and pragmatic arguments for social justice.
- Through a contract with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and George Washington University, Dr. Woolf serves as a consultant to the research staff of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America. The commission is working to inform the American public about the importance of social determinants of health. Drs. Woolf and Johnson have produced an online interactive tool, hosted on the commission Web site, that enables users to estimate — for a selected county or state — the number of deaths associated with gaps in educational attainment.
- Drs. Woolf, Stephen Rothemich, Alton Hart (Department of Medicine) and Tracy Orleans (Robert Wood Johnson Foundation) are estimating the number of deaths and costs from tobacco-related disease that would be averted if the prevalence of smoking among college-educated adults applied to all adults in the U.S. The study is being conducted with assistance from colleagues at the Office on Smoking and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Ga.
VCU Center on Human Needs
The VCU Center on Human Needs was chartered by the Board of Visitors in 2007 and Dr. Woolf currently serves as the center’s director. Its mission is to monitor the prevalence of societal distress in the U.S., measured in five domains: food security, housing, health, education and income. Faculty with appointments to the center include Resa M. Jones, M.P.H., Ph.D., assistant professor of Epidemiology and Community Health, and Emily Zimmerman, Ph.D., deputy director, Center for Social Science Research at George Mason University.
- Through a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the VCU Center on Human Needs is preparing a report on the prevalence of poverty in the U.S. Included in the report will be a presentation of the results of the Virginia Poverty Study.
- Virginia Poverty Study: This study examines the number of deaths that would have been averted in the commonwealth of Virginia in 1990-06 if every county experienced the mortality rate of the five counties with the highest household income. The results will be examined by year to identify temporal trends and by age group, gender and race/ethnicity. The aim of the study is to document the important influence of socioeconomic conditions on death rates. The project’s policymaker outreach component focuses on delivering study findings in useful formats and venues for state and local officials and other stakeholders.
- Through a grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the VCU Center on Human Needs is preparing its first full report on the prevalence of societal distress in the U.S. in the five domains of food security, housing, health, education and income. A communications firm will help package the report for dissemination to the public and key policymakers at the national and regional level.
- Through a grant from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies (JCPES), the VCU Center on Human Needs has received approximately $450,000. The JCEPS was funded by an NIH "Challenge Grant" to develop community health equity reports for nine communities across the United States that participate in the "Place Matters" initiative of the JCPES. The VCU Center on Human Needs will be responsible for analyzing and presenting the data in reports, using community-based participatory research methods to obtain local input and performing secondary analysis of large population-based data sets. The reports developed by the Center will provide narrative information, statistics, charts, and maps to help communities examine health status and disparities and the related social and economic factors associated with health. The Center will collaborate with the Virginia Geospatial Health Research Network to apply geographic information system (GIS) tools for mapping. The nine community health equity reports are scheduled to be completed in approximately 12 months and will be disseminated to communities for policy follow-up in the project's second year.