Morehouse research to-go

A mobile unit takes research to rural areas

Morehouse School of Medicine recently unveiled what they say is the state’s first mobile high-tech research unit equipped for research, prevention, and services. Using it, they can go to rural areas and let people take part in research trials, such as diabetes and stroke prevention studies. Dr. Elizabeth Ofili, Morehouse chief of cardiology and director of the Clinical Research Center talks about why the tricked-out bus is such a big deal.

What exactly is the unit?
This is a way to take the research excellence we have when people come to the physical Clinical Research Center on the Morehouse campus out to the broader community where people live, where people work, and sometimes where people worship. We’ll go to worksites and doctors’ offices that are spread across the state of Georgia.

What spurred its creation?
The problem we heard from (rural-area doctors in our network) is that their patients can’t come to Atlanta. So now they can come to the mobile unit. The unit really has everything they’d have access to if they were to come to the clinical research center. Plus, the doctors locally have a way to connect with us through telemonitors.

How long was the idea in the works?
It’s been percolating for at least 10 years. It was a combination of three groups of individuals. Our investigators who are physicians and scientists said we need to have a broader outreach and attract people from all over. Our community advisory board who advise us how to get participants said it would be helpful if sometimes you guys could come to us. And physicians who couldn’t come to the center said they couldn’t bring their patients.

Who will it serve?
In general, African Americans and women participate less in clinical research. We feel this removes one critical barrier. African Americans often have lack of resources and lack of transportation for diagnosis. Mobile research takes care of the access issue. Plus, when people take part in this research, they are not reluctant to take medicines. They have more knowledge and education.

Do you treat people, too?
It’s not about bringing services to people, it’s about letting them participate in trials. But our outreach around research winds up being a lot of support — like information about previously undiagnosed hypertension. It’s not our original goal, but sometimes we’re the first doctors they’ve seen in a long time.

How tricked out is the bus?
It’s so cool. It is unbelievable. You’d think you were in a doctor’s exam room. There are three separate areas so you can have three activities going on and it’s still private. We wanted to make sure it was state of the art and people felt that their engagement was a special one. It’s not just us doing stuff to people. We want people to be fully engaged and participatory and to fully enjoy that experience.