Research Areas of Excellence
The UNC Family Medicine Research Program aims to lead the nation in producing rigorous, extramurally-funded primary care and population health research. Our interdisciplinary team of clinicians, researchers, and staff work closely together—and with groups across UNC and numerous collaborating universities and organizations—to generate groundbreaking evidence with a focus on advancing the health and quality of life of diverse populations across the lifespan. We engage with key stakeholders in government, industry, and the non-profit sector to ensure that we are asking the right questions and effectively disseminating the evidence we generate to inform both policy and practice.
Our faculty are nationally and internationally known experts and leaders in a variety of research areas whose work is supported by grants and contracts from state and federal government sources as well as private foundations. We serve North Carolina, the country, and the global community. In our ongoing efforts to grow and improve our research program, we have identified three areas of excellence that are broad enough to capture the diversity of our work, yet focused enough to communicate the themes that unite us across the department.
Areas of Research Excellence
The UNC Department of Family Medicine pursues a broad scope of research in behavioral health, encompassing the many ways that people’s behaviors and mental health influence their primary care needs and the care that the family medicine workforce provides and coordinates.
• At the patient level, this includes research into the clinical and behavioral aspects of prevalent mental health conditions and substance use, as well as the behavioral aspects of disease management, disease prevention and patient-provider interactions.
• At the organization and systems levels, this includes evaluation of care systems, teams, healthcare professionals’ training and funding for mental and behavioral health services within family medicine offices as well as at the community, state, national and international levels.
Inequitable health outcomes are a notorious feature of American health care. These inequities result from a host of interconnected factors including, but not limited to, structural and institutional racism, implicit biases, stigma and discrimination, and cultural, linguistic, socioeconomic, and geographic barriers to care. Given the pervasive nature of health inequities, our work in this area intersects with much of our other research. For example, our faculty are working to understand how to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the health workforce; identifying determinants of disparities in tobacco use; combatting disparities in the management of chronic diseases; and investigating the role of social determinants of health, insurance coverage, and sources of care as causes of health inequities.
Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
We conduct research to prevent and manage disease across the lifespan. Our work in this area is particularly far-reaching and includes the UNC Tobacco Prevention and Evaluation Program (TPEP), the UNC Preventive Medicine Residency, the NRSA Primary Care Fellowship, the Department’s Population Health Program, and the UNC Program in Nicaragua. Our faculty are working to prevent infectious diseases by studying the burden of vaccine-preventable illnesses, and the uptake, safety, and effectiveness of vaccines; shaping policy, practice, and communication to reduce tobacco use; combatting child abuse; furthering our understanding of different approaches to the treatment of chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes and hypertension) and cancer; and addressing the health and long-term care needs of older adults.
Organization, Financing, and Delivery of Care
The U.S. health care system is rapidly approaching $4 trillion in annual spending, but it is not clear that our society is getting an appropriate return on that investment in the form of better health outcomes. Thus, it is more important than ever to study the issues of access, cost, and quality in health care. Our faculty in this area are known for their expertise related to studying the health workforce, the transition to value-based care, studies related to Medicaid and Medicare policy in North Carolina and nationwide, and studies of the role of primary care in improving health care quality and patient outcomes using innovative health IT tools, natural language processing, machine learning, and the use of large secondary datasets. Our faculty also co-direct the North Carolina Network Consortium a practice-based research network.