MU receives $4.5 million grant for health care research

Thursday, December 19, 2013 | 3:05 p.m. CST; updated 5:09 p.m. CST, Thursday, December 19, 2013

COLUMBIA — Patient-centered research at MU received a funding boost on Thursday with a $4.5 million federal grant.

The grant will fund three primary projects over five years and involve the School of Medicine, the Sinclair School of Nursing, the School of Health Professions and the School of Journalism.

The grant, from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality of the Department of Health and Human Services, is "the kind of Christmas present we would love to have every year," Leslie Hall, interim dean of the School of Medicine, said.

MU is one of seven institutions to receive funding.

The grant's principal investigator, David Mehr, outlined the three projects, which are meant to empower patients by giving them a more active role in making personal health-care decisions:

  • The first compares whether open surgery or less invasive procedures through arteries allow patients to avoid repeat hospitalizations.
  • The second seeks to improve communication between health-care professionals and patients who have been discharged from nursing facilities.
  • The third reviews primary care practices to help doctors make better decisions about prescribing narcotics for chronic pain, an issue that Mehr said has gained particular attention in recent years.

Results from the projects should appear in three to five years, Mehr, a professor in the School of Medicine, said.

Knitting the projects together is a mobile app, called Treepple, that will allow patients to receive tailored health news, build personal health records and share their health with their "circle of care," including doctors, family members and their support network, said Glen Cameron, professor of journalism and co-director of the Health Communication Research Center at MU.

Cameron conducted field tests with Treepple, one with baby boomers ages 48-to-65 years old and another with diabetics. Now he is trying out the program with the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation in Kansas. Able to connect with a network of others, one man was thankful that Treepple showed him he had support in managing his diabetes, Cameron said.

Treepple will focus on younger baby boomers who, as they retire, will have more time to spend on social media, Cameron said. The grant "will make a difference to me in the not-so-distant future," he said.

The health news Treepple users receive will not carry commercials but instead will alert users to appearances of their medical issues in the news.

The grant "is a high point in my career," Mehr said.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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