Data-Driven Solutions

MPH faculty focus on data-driven solutions to a variety of public health and community challenges.

 

Dr. Timothy McMurry incorporates his research on injury in collaboration with UVa’s Center for Applied Biomechanics (CAB) and with other faculty collaborators into his biostatistics courses. The CAB is a world-renowned center whose mission is to understand and design preventative measures for impact injuries, such as those resulting from car crashes, military blasts, and football. Dr. McMurry studies the performance of safety systems in real-world crashes using data collected through NASS-CDS, an ongoing crash investigation survey, and the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), which investigates all fatal crashes. He also assists with the analysis and interpretation of data from laboratory crashes in controlled conditions. In his biostatistics courses, most of his take-home exam and project questions are derived from data and analyses he has encountered in his CAB research and other research collaborations. For example, in the spring 2018 Biostatistics II course, the first project focused on multiple linear regression, and students explored the relationship between crush measurements in car crashes and impact speed. In another biostatistics course project, Dr. McMurry assigned students to predict readmission after hepatectomy, a problem he was simultaneously exploring with a clinician-collaborator. For their final exam, students analyzed longitudinal pathogen quantities in children following diarrhea, which was based on another area of current research investigation. These examples illustrate the ways Dr. McMurry includes current research analyses into classroom projects and exams, using current, real-world data and analyses.

Dr. Heather Zelle, both a psychologist and lawyer, leads a team of researchers and policy analysts at the UVa Institute of Law, Psychiatry, and Public Policy, an interdisciplinary program between the Schools of Law and Medicine. The Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services (DBHDS) contracts with the Institute to undertake mental health law and policy research and analysis. Over the last few years, Dr. Zelle has provided core support to a subcommittee of state legislators on an intensive review of the mental health system in Virginia that includes data analysis, policy analysis, and qualitative research. She has integrated each of these into her courses on secondary data analysis and on mental health policy. For example, Dr. Zelle integrates her work at the Institute into her course, Mental Health Law and Policy. She utilizes Virginia as a primary, though not the sole, example across many lectures to demonstrate issues such as: the multifaceted nature of mental illness and its social determinants, which in turn requires a multifaceted policy approach; the levels of government regulation and how branches of government interact to promulgate, implement, and enforce policy; the ethical implications of revising civil commitment statutory language; and issues of procedural justice that arise when mental health care consumers are not part of the policy making discussion. Dr. Zelle also utilizes Virginia data visualizations such as incidence rates of emergency custody and civil commitment orders and mapping of resources to demonstrate the importance of locality-specific, contemporary data to inform policy.

Dr. Jeanita Richardson co-leads the NIH-Minority Health International Research Training Grant (MHIRT), and her research collaborations through this grant are integrated into her MPH courses in a number of ways. The MHIRT grant provides underrepresented minority students an opportunity to conduct research in an international setting in the hopes that this experience will encourage health science research as a profession. In collaboration with the St. Kitts and Nevis Ministry of Health, research projects have been developed to provide baseline data about the prevalence and distribution of type 2 diabetes and its risk factors among adult and youth populations in the Federation. Dr. Richardson’s experiences with MHIRT in the field are integrated into her Health Behavior and Health Promotion class, particularly as examples of deconstructing health behavior and the range of choices
available to different populations in various settings and contexts. She also integrates cases and examples from the MHIRT field experiences into her Qualitative Methodology courses as practical examples of how to develop respectful research collaborations and culturally sensitive research protocols and to inform class assignments on the ethical responsibilities of researchers while in the field.

Dr. Kristen Wells is an environmental epidemiologist with extensive experience working with health department data, both as program evaluator and environmental health coordinator for the state health department and, more recently, as a faculty researcher. Using environmental and health outcome data collected by the Virginia Department of Health, Dr. Wells’ Environmental Epidemiology students are provided with current, real-world examples of the relationship between environmental hazards and health outcomes in Virginia. Using de-identified data sets and publicly available environmental data, students are provided the opportunity to explore the complex relationship between the presence of environmental hazards, the likelihood of exposure as it relates to dose and duration of exposure, and the challenges to establishing validity in environmental epidemiology studies.

Dr. Rupa Valdez, a public health faculty member with a degree in human factors systems engineering, focuses much of her research on understanding how individuals manage chronic conditions at home and determining how technology can best be designed to support these individuals. Her research draws on transdisciplinary perspectives from engineering, informatics, anthropology, and public health, and integrates students and faculty from different disciplines. For example, students work closely with Dr. Valdez and her co-researchers, David Edmunds (Arts & Sciences) and anthropologist Christopher Colvin, on a community based participatory research project entitled, “Supporting Self-Management and Wellness among Residents of Westhaven and Town Two.” The purpose of this on-going study is to partner with community members in Charlottesville and a township outside of Cape Town, South Africa, to create a community-based approach to addressing social and economic barriers to chronic disease management and community wellness. A related publication in press includes former MPH student Courtney Rogers as first author: Rogers, C., Johnson, J., Nueslein, B., Edmunds, D., *Valdez, R. S. (In Press). “I love fruit but I can’t afford it”: Using participatory action research to develop community-based initiatives to mitigate challenges to chronic disease management in an African American community living in public housing. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.

Dr. Jennifer Mason Lobo is a systems engineer who uses Markov decision process models and simulation modeling methods. Dr. Lobo focuses on numerous disease prevention and health services research topics, which often provide student opportunities for involvement. One research topic is treatment optimization for patients with Type 2 diabetes, including optimizing the use of aspirin for prevention of stroke and coronary heart disease events, and trends in screening and preventive treatment among diabetes patients in Appalachia. Her other health service research topics include emergency department patient flow and hospital infectious disease prevention. An example of student involvement is described by a recent graduate, Marika Grabowski: “When starting my graduate degree at UVa, I requested research exposure to supplement my education and was set up with a research collaboration between public health, infectious diseases, and systems engineering. As part of this collaboration, I was tasked with designing and conducting a research study on the potential role health care providers play in transmitting hospital infections. My epidemiology coursework led me to design a case-control study assessing the impact of shared providers on acquisition of an infection. This work involved utilizing hundreds of data files (many over 1 million rows long) to identify the care providers who saw patients with and without infections and to look for overlap in their providers. I was responsible for completing all data processing from cleaning and organizing to writing and executing the code for analyses. In addition, I was asked to develop and complete an observational study using cameras to assess behaviors that occur around hospital sinks. The goal of this project was to develop hypotheses about behaviors that may impact movement of bacteria from the sink environment to the patient and vice versa. I was responsible for aiding in placing and maintaining cameras in the hospital, as well as watching and analyzing over 300 recorded videos. To supplement this work, I also helped in the collection of samples from water reservoirs to test for the presence of potentially harmful bacteria. This work also provided me the opportunity to complete the process of writing and revising papers for publication, as both projects have subsequently been accepted for publication in hospital infection control journals. The experience I gained in applying my coursework to real world projects was incredibly beneficial to my education experience and has allowed me to be successful in my post-graduate career.”

Dr. Aaron Pannone focuses his research and teaching on secondary data analysis, particularly related to community health topics, and students are often included on his research projects. For example, Dr. Pannone conducts research for the Thomas Jefferson Health Department community needs assessments, as a member of the health department’s steering committee. One project focused on the availability of granular health department level data on a number of important health topics identified by the community. Dr. Pannone included a student in the research and their work was presented at the 2017 annual meeting of the American Public Health Association. The authors concluded that it is potentially inappropriate to use data sources such as the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System for setting local goals and measuring success of local programs (Pannone, A.P., Yancey, O., Demands and Limitations of Population Health Data for Local Health Departments. (2017) Proceedings APHA Annual Symposium: 3358.0 Estimation for County and Community Level Data). In another example, Dr. Pannone is utilizing his expertise on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to partner with a geriatrician to research the use of potentially inappropriate medications in the elderly. An MPH student is an important member of this research team. The student has conducted part of the coding for analysis, is managing the background literature, and is taking the lead in drafting the report. The student is gaining valuable experience by learning about collaboration across disciplines, seeing a real-world research project from beginning to end, and taking responsibility for key steps in the research process. This work has been submitted to the American Public Health Association annual conference for fall of 2018 and is being submitted to the Journal of the American Geriatric Association.

Dr. B. Cameron Webb conducts numerous research projects on health policy and social determinants of health. He created a policy research laboratory—the Health Equity, Law and Policy Research (HELPR) Lab—for students to participate in research activities. Throughout the semester, MPH students work on a range of projects focused on health policy and health equity, specifically as they impact vulnerable and marginalized communities. Examples of MPH student-assisted research projects include: an analysis of state Medicaid programs across the country in terms of access, value and sustainability; a study of the social determinants of health expenditures; an analysis of the drivers of health insurance premiums in the Commonwealth of Virginia; and an assessment of physician awareness and attitudes toward key health policy issues. Students work collaboratively with students in other programs, including the SOM and the School of Public Policy. They have key roles in conducting literature review, study design, statistical analysis and data visualization.