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The Making of Medicine

An Ambitious New Effort to Reduce Health Disparities

We've launched a new Center for Health Equity and Precision Public Health to tackle some of today's greatest public health issues, with the ultimate goal of reducing health disparities and promoting health equity for people across Virginia and beyond.

In specific, the new center aims to improve the health and well-being of rural residents, the economically challenged and minority groups. These are groups that often suffer disparities that can worsen their health, reduce their quality of life and, ultimately, shorten their lives.

“The pandemic has really taught us that, one, our public health infrastructure is not nearly as strong as it should be," said Keith L. Keene, PhD, the center’s founding director. "And, two, we can't think of healthcare and public health in this one-size-fits-all type of mentality."

Our Department of Public Health Sciences recruited Keene from East Carolina University for his expertise in this area. As a researcher, he investigates the genetic risk factors for complex disease, and he intends to connect that type of important but complex research directly with patient outcomes.

“Our goal here is to build a new center – an interdisciplinary center – that's really devoted to integrating precision medicine,” he told me. “So we’ll use the genomics work that we do here in the Center for Public Health Genomics along with public health and health informatics approaches to think about how we can improve the health and well-being of rural, economically challenged and racial/ethnic minority populations.”

While Professor Keene's taking a big-picture approach to complicated problems, he and his collaborators intend for their work to ultimately benefit individual patients. Their goal is to ensure that each person can “attain his or her full health potential,” regardless of race, location or economic background, he told me. 

This work "can really help us think about the overall picture of health and healthcare,” Keene said. “We see how desperately it is needed – across the state there is just an increasing lack of specialists and an increasing lack of access. We want to do something about that, and to ensure people have good options.”

The new center's goals align closely with UVA Health’s first-ever 10-year strategic plan, which aims to cultivate healthy communities, enable discoveries that benefit human health and ensure no Virginian needs to leave the state to receive even the most complex care. I'm looking forward to seeing how Professor Keene's new center helps make that happen.

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