January 2001

From University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Researchers to investigate racial differences in health

Chapel Hill -- Differences in treatment and outcomes between blacks and whites in North Carolina will be the focus of a new program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research. Although based at UNC-CH, the Center of Excellence on Overcoming Racial Disparities also will combine efforts of researchers at N.C. Central and Shaw universities.

The U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has granted $1.27 million to create the center. The Glaxo Wellcome Foundation and UNC-CH's Program on Health Outcomes and School of Public Health will provide additional funding.

Researchers will focus on eliminating health disparities between blacks and whites by concentrating on black N.C. adults who suffer from prostate cancer, high blood pressure and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection. Research has shown that blacks tend to have poorer rates of prevention, diagnosis and treatment for those diseases, among others, and overall worse health than whites.

Drs. Timothy S. Carey, director of the Sheps Center, and Paul Godley, associate professor of medicine at the UNC-CH School of Medicine, are principal and co-principal investigator, respectively. "There are many complex factors involved in the treatment and outcomes for these and other diseases," Godley said. "We want to single out the factors that disproportionately affect blacks and find ways to reverse them."

Godley will lead a team of researchers studying prostate cancer rates and outcomes for blacks and whites in eastern and central North Carolina. They hope to determine if black men receive less aggressive treatment, have less frequent PSA screenings and less access to care. They also plan to learn whether knowledge, attitudes and beliefs about testing and treatment differ between blacks and whites.

"We hope the results will provide a basis for development of patient education materials, intervention studies and demonstration projects," Godley said.

Drs. Thomas R. Konrad, senior research fellow at the Sheps Center and Daniel Howard, associate professor and director of the Office of Sponsored Programs at Shaw University, will lead a study of hypertension treatment data for elderly patients in five N.C. counties. They will focus on whether physicians' and patients' race affects the type of treatments given and their satisfaction with care. A third study will assess reasons why blacks may get worse care compared to whites for HIV infection and sexually transmitted diseases in rural N. C. health-care systems. Drs. Michael Calloway, associate director for mental health services at the Sheps Center and research assistant professor of psychiatry, and James Thomas, associate professor of epidemiology at UNC-CH, will lead that research.

All three studies will involve graduate and undergraduate assistants at Shaw and N.C. Central universities. Howard at Shaw and Dr. Rudolph Jackson, dean of graduate studies at N.C. Central University, will coordinate their work.

Creation of the Center of Excellence on Overcoming Racial Health Disparities is part of a larger UNC-CH effort to address the roles of ethnicity and culture in health and the U.S. health-care system. The university is examining how current efforts are addressing disparities in health care and health outcomes and developing ways to use its resources more productively and devote more effort to the issue.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, a public health service agency in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, supports research designed to improve the quality of health care, reduce its cost, improve patient safety, address medical errors and broaden access to essential services.

Note: Carey and Godley can be reached at 919-966-7100 and 966-4431, respectively, or via e-mail at carey@med.unc.edu and pgodley@med.unc.edu.

Sheps Center contact: Carolyn Busse, 919-966-3847.












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