Ohio University’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine plans to modify its training programs using research conducted by the Central Appalachian Consortium of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine.
The Central Appalachian Consortium of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine will examine local Appalachian communities to determine the number of practicing primary care physicians and identify health disparities in the region.
HCOM, Lincoln Memorial University DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harrogate, Tennessee, and the University of Pikeville Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine make up the consortium.
“Initially at least, the research will be aimed at getting a really clear picture of the current health professionals serving our communities, in terms of what types, how many, services provided, geographic locations, etc.,” Kenneth Johnson, the dean of OU-HCOM, said in an email. “If we’re going to adapt our training programs to provide better coverage of the health care shortages in the region, first we need to identify where and what the biggest gaps are related to physician workforce.”
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Consortium Research Lead Sebastian Diaz hopes the research will reveal factors that could help the schools encourage students studying osteopathic medicine to choose rural primary care practice after graduation.
“We don’t have enough primary care health providers in high need areas and that particular problem is particularly magnified in rural America,” Diaz said. “By focusing on central Appalachia, we’re not taking care of all of rural America, but we’re beginning to focus on a discrete geographic region where this kind of work can be done.”
Research will be conducted through a mixed method model that includes surveys, analysis of previously collected data from external sources, observation and focus groups.
Access to health care in rural communities is among the challenges the research will explore, Kelly Nottingham, the executive director of primary care research initiatives, said.
“Being able to address where can they get care so they don’t have to travel 40 miles to go to their primary care doctor, they have a doctor that’s local, makes a huge impact in being able to manage disease and prevent issues,” Nottingham said. “Even those of us who are healthy, if we could go in for our annual exam and make sure we aren’t sick, we can prevent a lot of the challenges.”
The funding for this research project, $3.6 million, comes from a larger $105 million grant given by the Osteopathic Heritage Foundation in 2011, Jim Phillips, an HCOM communication specialist, said. The grant was directed into specific broad categories, including transforming the primary care curriculum.
“Serving the most pressing health care needs of the communities around us is built into our mission — it’s one of the big reasons the Ohio legislature created the college 40 years ago,” Johnson said. “That same obligation to their neighbors is recognized by all three colleges in the consortium, and similar health care disparities exist across central Appalachia.”
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That research is not formally related to HCOM’s Rural and Urban Scholars Pathways program, but both represent HCOM’s commitment to improve healthcare access in Ohio’s medically under-served communities, Johnson said.