(COLLEGE STATION, TX) — Three faculty at the Texas A&M Health Science Center School of Rural Public Health have been awarded National Institutes of Health (NIH) Challenge Grants in health and science research, competitive awards funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Recipients are principal investigators Jean Brender, Ph.D., R.N., associate dean of research and professor of epidemiology; Robert Ohsfeldt, Ph.D., associate professor of health policy and management; and Ming Tai-Seale, Ph.D., professor in health policy and management.

Jean Brender, Ph.D., R.N.

Jean Brender, Ph.D., R.N.

Dr. Brender will continue her investigation of the relationship between nitrates, nitrites, nitrosatable drugs and selected birth defects using data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS). In this study, periconceptional addresses of Iowa and Texas participants are being linked to community water systems and pertinent water nitrate sampling results.

For Texas participants on private wells, nitrate levels are being modeled and predicted with a multi-dimensional flow and transport model. In the course of the study, investigators discovered a sizable proportion of women reported drinking only bottled water in early pregnancy.

In conjunction with Dr. Peter Weyer and Dr. Paul Romitti of the University of Iowa and Dr. Joseph Sharkey of the HSC-School of Rural Public Health, Dr. Brender will use the ARRA supplemental funding to estimate the intake of nitrate among Texas and Iowa NBDPS participants who reported drinking bottled water exclusively. The investigators will collect bottled water samples in stores and water mills in the vicinity of periconceptional addresses of these women.

Bottled water samples will be tested for nitrate and nitrite at the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory. In addition to improving exposure assessment to nitrates in drinking water in the parent project, the sub-study will provide useful comparisons of nitrate content in bottled water and municipal water supplies in Texas and Iowa. A second objective is to improve and accelerate data analyses in the parent project.

Co-investigators at the HSC-School of Rural Public Health include Dr. Sharkey, associate professor of social and behavioral health; Dr. Qi Zheng, associate professor of biostatistics; Dr. J.C. Huber, assistant professor of biostatistics; and Scott Horel, senior research associate.

Other co-investigators are Dr. Binayak Mohanty, professor of biological and agricultural engineering at Texas A&M University; Dr. Weyer, associate director of the University of Iowa Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination; Dr. Romitti, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa; Dr. Martha Werler, professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Medicine; and Dr. Peter Langlois, Dr. Lucina Suarez and Dr. Mark Canfield of the Texas Department of State Health Services. Dr. F. Benjamin Zhan, professor of geography at Texas State University, and Dr. Sadia Ghaffar-Malik, associate professor of pediatric cardiology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, serve as consultants on the project.

Robert Ohsfeldt, Ph.D.

Robert Ohsfeldt, Ph.D.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ohsfeldt will begin a study on the determinants of usage of a health information exchange system in Central Texas. The process of electronically exchanging patient information between different providers has important implications for both national health care policy and the quality of health care.

ARRA provided substantial funding to health care organizations for health information technology purchases, and health information exchange is an expected capacity to be developed through this funding. In terms of quality, health information exchange is expected to improve coordination, safety and timeliness of care. However, very little is known about why and when health care practitioners use these systems. The research project will examine organizational and other factors that foster or inhibit the practitioners’ usage of clinical information from a health information exchange system.

This project continues Dr. Ohsfeldt’s work in the area of health information technology adoption. His research team consists of Dr. Larry Gamm, department head and professor at HSC-School of Rural Public Health, Jon Jasperson, assistant clinical professor at the Texas A&M University Mays School of Business, and Joshua Vest, a Ph.D. candidate in health services research at HSC-SRPH.

Ming Tai-Seale, Ph.D.

Ming Tai-Seale, Ph.D.

Separately, Dr. Ming Tai-Seale will study physician-patient communication between older adults and their primary care physicians from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. She will examine the cost effectiveness of mental health communication by primary care physicians – often the only source of mental health services received by the elderly – based on the patients’ adherence to prescribed treatment.

Dr. Tai-Seale hopes to identify concrete recommendations on how to improve mental health treatment for the elderly during doctor visits.

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