Research Roundup

February 26, 2019

Researchers at the College of Community Health Sciences receive funding for projects to better identify and assist patients at risk for high blood pressure, and to help reduce a significant racial disparity in infant mortality rates in Alabama

College of Community Health Sciences researchers received $100,000 in additional funding for research designed to identify and better assist University Medical Center patients with elevated blood pressure who might be at risk for, but not yet diagnosed with, hypertension.

The second phase of funding will be used to help the researchers collaborate with The University of Alabama Center for Advanced Public Safety (CAPS) to develop a mobile health app for patients identified as pre-hypertensive.

Dr. Louanne Friend, assistant professor in the Department of Community Medicine and Population Health is the principle investigator of the study. Co-principle investigators are: Suzanne Henson, RD, assistant professor in the Department of Family, Internal, and Rural Medicine and practicing dietitian at UMC; and Amy Sherwood, director of Health Information Technology for the College.

UMC is operated by the College. The Alabama Department of Public Health is funding the work.

During the first phase of the project, Hiding in Plain Sight: An Innovative Hypertension Identification and Treatment Program, the researchers received $20,000 from ADPH to identify UMC patients with elevated blood pressure who might not yet have been diagnosed with hypertension. The researchers created a hypertension template that was embedded into UMC’s electronic medical record at its Northport location to alert physicians when patients might be undiagnosed with hypertension. The template also provides physicians access to a decision-making tree for referral to lifestyle education and pharmacotherapy.

During phase two of the project, the researchers work with CAPS to develop and administer a patient friendly app designed to help users easily record and keep track of their blood pressure, weight, diet and physical activity – and then share the information with their medical providers. The app will also have an information portal providing a lifestyle curriculum for patients with information about how to control high blood pressure with diet, exercise and the reduction of stress.

Empowering rural moms

A significant racial disparity exists in infant mortality rates in Alabama, with black infants almost five times as likely to die during childbirth as white infants, said Drs. Joy Bradley and Mercedes Morales-Aleman, researchers with the College of Community Health Sciences.

Bradley and Morales-Aleman, both assistant professors in the Department of Community Medicine and Population Health and Institute for Rural Health Research, received funding for a pilot project that seeks to provide additional care and support for pregnant women in rural areas of West Alabama in an effort to reduce the disparity and improve health outcomes.

The $10,000 in funding they received was one of just 10 awards for such research made nationwide by the federal Health Resources and Services Administration.

The researchers’ pilot project, Telemedicine-toward Empowering Rural Moms (TERM), combines evidence-based practices from telemedicine, home visit programs, team-based care and family-focused care to assist and empower rural women through pregnancy and postpartum.

TERM will use community health workers and certified medical assistants to provide home visits and remote pregnancy monitoring in an effort to: facilitate access to quality prenatal care for black women in rural and medically underserved areas of Tuscaloosa County; empower women with tailored patient education and recommendations so they can better understand and monitor their health and make informed decisions; increase care coordination through use of a team-based approach and telemedicine; and ultimately improve pregnancy and health outcomes.