Hunter Morris, PharmD, a health informatics and information management student in the College of Health Professions at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, will present the results of his research study at the third-annual National Native Health Research Training Conference. It will take place virtually later this month.
Hepatitis C, a liver infection, caused by the Hepatitis C virus, affects roughly four million Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it kills more Americans than any other infectious disease that is reported. Dr. Morris’ area of research focuses on Hepatitis C and its impact on underserved Native American communities.
His current study, “Utilizing Health Information Technology towards Eradicating Hepatitis C from an Underserved Community – Blackfeet Native American Reservation, Montana,” discusses how telehealth factored into treating Hepatitis C on the Blackfeet Native American reservation in Montana. Dr. Morris’ adviser is Sajeesh Kumar, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Diagnostic and Health Sciences in the College of Health Professions.
The Blackfeet Nation is an Indian reservation and headquarters for the Siksikaitsitapi people in the United States. Located in Montana, it is east of Glacier National Park and borders the Canadian province of Alberta. There, Hepatitis C is becoming an epidemic that is rapidly spreading. “The underlying issues that plagues this reservation like many others stem from low socioeconomic status, high levels of alcohol and drug abuse, minimal education, and geographical isolation,” Dr. Morris said. “All of these factors significantly increase the propensity for engaging in risky behavior.”
Dr. Morris, who is set to graduate in August, is currently employed as a pharmacy manager, and plans to use his degree to assume an informatics pharmacist manager role in the public sector. He discovered the need for Hepatitis C services while working in Indian Health Service at Blackfeet Community Hospital.
“I noticed that we had numerous patients infected with the virus, but it was going unaddressed from a treatment perspective, so I decided to start a pharmacist-driven Hepatitis C clinic,” he said. “Studies continue to show that directly integrating pharmacists into patient care through chronic disease state management leads to better patient outcomes.”
Since establishing the clinic, Dr. Morris has been able to begin curing patients of Hepatitis C, increasing their life expectancies. “Even in one of the most advanced and financially prosperous countries in the world, we still have populations of disenfranchised people experiencing extreme levels of poverty, minimal access to basic health care, and a lack of proper education,” Dr. Morris said. “It is up to us to ensure that these basic human rights and necessities are extended to all.”