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$1.6 Million Grant Funds Rural Health Care Study

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The University of Central Florida will help guide policy decisions when medical care reform is enacted in rural America thanks to a new grant.

The National Institutes of Health has awarded UCF a $1.6 million grant to assess health care provided by Rural Health Clinics - federally recognized clinics located in rural, medically underserved areas of the United States. There are more than 3,800 nationwide.

The research team will focus on eight southern states - Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee, which account for approximately 25 percent of all Rural Health Clinics in the country.

"The study is timely," said Thomas T.H. Wan, an associate dean for research for the College of Health and Public Affairs and one of the lead researchers for the grant. "We lack information on standards and best practices in rural health. It's critical to have this information as we design and implement ways to reform health care delivery."

About 20 percent of all people ages 65 and older live in nonmetropolitan areas in the U.S. Rural Health Clinics have played an important role in meeting the needs of these adults for more than 30 years. Clinics have increased over the past two decades from 314 in 1990 to 3,846 clinics in 2011, according to UCF's Judith Ortiz, the other lead researcher for the new study. However, Rural Health Clinics have struggled to keep pace.

"Many have difficulty attracting and retaining qualified health care professionals," Ortiz said.

Rural environments present their own challenges with higher percentages of the elderly and higher rates of chronic disease compared to urban areas and increased costs to deliver medicine in some truly rural environments.

"Our analysis should reveal the factors that contribute to a Rural Health Clinic's ability to offer accessible, cost-effective, quality care to all rural populations," Wan said.

Wan and Ortiz believe that Rural Health Clinics could benefit from opportunities posed by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The act allows these rural clinics to join Accountable Care Organizations (ACO), groups of health care providers (physicians and hospitals) that assume the responsibility for providing health care to a defined group of patients.  Because the ACOs are large, they have economies of scale and may have more flexibility in attracting medical personnel.

"Accountable Care Organizations are the fundamental mechanism for reforming health care delivery," Wan said. "Their aim is to improve access to care, reduce costs of care and ensure quality care is rendered to the population."

During the four-year study, the researchers will collect and analyze data from approximately 800 southern Rural Health Clinics. They will examine how many clinics join ACOs now that they are an option.

Rural clinics need to have some basic computer resources and technical staff to join ACOs and that's not always the case, Ortiz said.

The researchers believe that without access to these networks of physicians and hospitals, rural populations could receive fewer health care services. That poses health risks and ultimately could cost taxpayers more when patients are forced to seek emergency care.

Researchers from UCF's Department of Health Management and Informatics (Maysoun Dimachkie), College of Medicine (Adam Golden), College of Nursing (Angeline Bushy) and College of Education (Stephen Sivo) will participate in the study.

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The health care informatics master's program at UCF really helped me connect with the industry, meet people at conferences and sit for the most-desired certification exams."
— Michael Neimann M.S. in health care informatics ('14)
My internship with the District 9 Medical Examiner’s Office was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I gained an excellent understanding of the medical examiner’s office and the criminal justice field in general."
— Adam Stubley B.S. in criminal justice, criminal profiling certificate ('11)
UCF provides its physical therapy students with an excellent education and prepares them to work in the most challenging of settings."
— Jamie Dyson Rehabilitation Supervisor, Orlando Regional Medical Center
UCF's program provided me the opportunity to expedite my student experience while attaining practical experience working within local health systems."
— Daniel Barr V.P. at National Children's Hospital; M.S. in health sciences, health services administration track ('04)
My master's education helped me see the big picture of the nonprofit industry. UCF showed me how to see the different fundraising tools within the Central Florida area."
— Krysti Griffith Executive Director of Growth from Grief; Master of Nonprofit Management ('12)
The course opened my eyes to grant writing ... I learned a great deal and you [Barbara Howell] are truly an excellent instructor."
— Deborah Reith Master of Public Administration student who secured a $10,000 federal grant through a course project; B.S. in criminal justice ('86)
The skills I learned during my time at UCF are what made my transition to law school so seamless."
— Jacqueline Iaquinta Touro Law Center student; B.S. in legal studies ('10)
As an inaugural graduate of the M.R.A. program at UCF, I can attest to the outstanding curriculum developed for research administrators. "
— April Heyward Post Award Services Coordinator, University of South Carolina; Master of Research Administration ('13)
It was at UCF that I first learned many of the skills that I’ve since honed, including mapping with GIS software - an ability I found invaluable to my search for internships, graduate-level coursework, and employment."
— Richard "Ben" Hagen Research and Communications Associate, New Economy Project, New York City; B.S. in public administration ('10)
I am excited to be able to give back to the program that invested so much in me. It is truly and honor and a privilege."
— Carlos Gual Instructor of Athletic Training; B.S. in athletic training ('09)
The faculty advisor [at my medical school] was amazed that I had the opportunity to truly participate in the full spectrum of research as an undergraduate. "
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