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Striving for Health Equity

Welch Center faculty and trainees focus on understanding and mitigating health disparities in Baltimore and beyond.

We have all these wonderful treatments, but they are not getting to everyone. Health disparities research and research programs have the potential to address this societal imperative.

Lisa A. Cooper, MD, MPH, Core Faculty in the Welch Center and Vice President, Health Care Equity for Johns Hopkins Medicine

Health outcomes may vary according to an individual’s race, sex, socioeconomic status and/or geographic location; and not all people have the same experience with the healthcare system. Such health inequities result from differences in social and physical environmental exposures and in access to resources; however, these inequities have broader implications – infringing on fairness and human rights.

Initially motivated by problems that she saw during her clinical training related to her patients living in underserved communities, Dr. Cooper has dedicated her career to the promise of health equity. Her research has focused on racial/ethnic disparities, particularly in the primary care setting, and on the importance of strengthening patient-physician communication and health system relationships with the communities they serve. She contributed to the seminal 2002 Institute of Medicine report on health disparities, Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Health Care. A person-centered and community-engaged approach is essential in designing interventions to address health inequalities – looking at the context of where patients live and what resources are available to them. Ultimately, innovative models are needed to deliver care to reach people who wouldn’t naturally come in for care. In 2010, Dr. Cooper and colleagues established the Johns Hopkins Center to Eliminate Cardiovascular Health Disparities, which conducts research and trains the next generation of disparities researchers. Partnering with the community to address disparities is key, which the Center accomplishes through an active community advisory board. Many other Welch Center Core faculty members who focus on health disparities have benefited from Dr. Cooper’s mentorship and affiliation with this center. Lively discussions occur during the monthly Health Equity Jam Session, where trainees and faculty present research in progress.

Welch Center faculty members are tackling health inequalities head on – understanding and remedying disparities in Baltimore and beyond. Drs. Mary Catherine Beach and Carlton Haywood Jr. have focused on improving quality of care for vulnerable populations with sickle-cell disease through novel interventions including a video to improve healthcare providers’ attitudes towards patients in pain crisis. Dr. Deidra Crews’ work addresses social determinants of chronic kidney disease, including race, poverty and limited access to healthful foods. Dr. Raquel Greer studies the role of primary care providers, and their partnerships with specialists, in addressing disparities in kidney disease. Dr. Craig Pollack examines racial differences in cancer screening, detection and treatment. Dr. Kimberly Gudzune uses community-based participatory strategies to address inequalities related to diet, exercise and obesity among low-income populations in Baltimore.

Addressing health disparities is a top priority for the Welch Center.