July 24, 2012

EMBARGOED UNTIL NOON, JULY 25

COLLEGE PARK, Md. - A special report released today by the University of Maryland School of Public Health will inform the design of an innovative new system to improve health and health care in Prince George's County. Transforming Health in Prince George's County, Maryland: A Public Health Impact Study is the result of a unique group of studies that concurrently gathered information from residents and policy makers, examined the county's health care workforce and public health programs, and documented best practices from comparable health care systems.

Commissioned by Prince George's County, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the University of Maryland Medical System and Dimensions Healthcare System, the study identified three major components needed for a new health care system that can drive results: making disease prevention and health promotion central to the effort, developing a county-led process to improve and integrate public health and primary care, and creating an academically-affiliated regional health center with a strong collaborative ambulatory care network.

"As a proud member of Prince George's County, we are pleased to contribute to improving the health of our fellow residents," says Dr. Wallace Loh, president of the University of Maryland.  "This research by our School of Public Health is another demonstration of our commitment to use university expertise to make a real impact in our communities and throughout the state of Maryland."

Among the study's key findings:

  • Health Status of County Residents
    Prince George's County residents suffer from higher rates of chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, asthma and cancer, than those residing in neighboring counties. Sixty-nine percent of residents surveyed are overweight or obese, based on Body Mass Index calculations. Seventeen percent report being diagnosed with pre-diabetes and 33 percent with pre-hypertension. The study recommends emphasizing primary prevention and strong and collaborative primary care networks that can coordinate care management for such conditions and lead to improvements that save lives and reduce costly hospital visits.
     
  • Health Care Workforce Capacity
    The County has far fewer primary care providers for the population compared to surrounding counties and the state. The areas with the highest primary care need are within the Beltway and in the southern region of the County. The study shows a need for an additional 61 primary care physicians (13% increase) and 31 dentists (7% increase) to meet minimum need in these areas, and recommends expanding community-based health facilities and outreach programs.
     
  • Community-based Care Capacity
    While the County has many assets that can be mobilized to support a new system, the capacity of community-based care, including safety net clinics, remains severely limited. The study states that County-led efforts are needed to increase this capacity and to guide the integration of primary care and public health services.
     
  • Perception of County Health Care Quality
    Many Prince George's residents seek health care outside of the County, and this is driven by insurance carriers, provider referrals, availability of specialty care and perceptions of the quality of care at local hospitals. Residents and key stakeholders emphasized the importance of establishing an academically affiliated regional medical center for the County to improve actual and perceived quality of care. County residents identified services such as nutrition, physical activity, mental health and substance abuse treatment and family planning activities as vital to a new health care system. They also reported difficulty in learning about their medical conditions, identifying the need to enhance health literacy as another issue to consider. The study recommends that the planning phase of the new health care system look at these and other issues that would achieve the potential of the new system.

"Advancing a better state of health in Prince George's County and the state of Maryland depends upon eliminating racial and ethnic health disparities," says School of Public Health Dean Jane E. Clark. "Our school is committed to promoting health equity and improved quality of life in the County and beyond. We envision that this unprecedented partnership to establish a new health care system for the County could be a model for transforming health throughout the nation."

The report Transforming Health in Prince George's County: A Public Health Impact Study was conducted by a team of senior researchers at the University of Maryland School of Public Health. Download the report and the supporting technical documents (pdf).