Outreach Center to Develop National Health Disparities Database

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With support from the National Library of Medicine, the Outreach Center has started a collaborative project to develop a national, interactive database on health disparities.

With support from the National Library of Medicine, the Outreach Center at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) has started a collaborative project to develop a national, interactive database on health disparities.

Health disparities represent the disproportionate impact of severe health problems on certain racial and ethnic populations, rural communities, people of low socioeconomic status, and other medically underserved populations.

According to Karen Fox, Outreach Center director, “These disparities are having a catastrophic effect on our nation’s ability to meet healthcare needs and contain escalating expenses. Since the causes of health disparities are complex, it is important for researchers to understand the root causes and how the variables interact. Our aim in developing this database is to make the information more easily accessible so potential solutions can be explored as quickly as possible to improve health outcomes.”

The database is being developed by interfacing independent electronic databases and establishing an intellectual network. Using a computerized topographic map as its base, the system will employ Geographic Information Systems to overlay and integrate graphics and text from separate databases. Dr. Fox commented, “By graphically displaying different types of information in a particular region, researchers will be able to better understand the relationships between environmental exposures and health outcomes.”

Environmental determinants, which will be broadly examined, will include mortality and morbidity rates, healthcare utilization, quality-of care-measures, health behaviors, healthcare resources (supply, organization and financing), and environmental variables that impact health status or access.

The database will serve as a customized and reliable tool to support decision making, problem solving and policy development aimed at reducing health disparities. It will be available through the UTHSC website.

Established in September 2004, The Outreach Center at UTHSC is aimed at maximizing the use of innovative technologies to meet the healthcare needs of Mid-Southerners.