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That researchers in Hawai'i are committed to addressing Native Hawaiian health issues is a given, but now the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has recognized the importance of supporting this research. The NIH recently awarded a $6 million partnership program grant to The Queen's Medical Center and the Department of Native Hawaiian Health (DNHH) at the University of Hawai’i John A. Burns School of Medicine (JABSOM). In 2002, The Queen's Health Systems contributed $5 million to JABSOM to create and develop DNHH, which addresses the health disparity issues of Native Hawaiians in collaboration with QMC and other organizations with similar missions.

Over the next five years, Todd Seto, MD, MPH, cardiologist and medical director of the Center for Best Health Care Practices at QMC, will work with Marjorie K. Mau, MD, MS, professor and chair of DNHH, to conduct four studies aimed at improving heart disease disparities in Native Hawaiians and other Pacific islanders.

The partnership program awarded the NIH grant is called the Heart Disparities Partnership Program. In addition to QMC and DNHH, the program includes the Kalihi-Palama Community Health Center, Kokua Kalihi Valley Community Health Center, Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center and Waimanalo Health Center.

To examine heart failure disparities, the team led by Drs. Seto and Mau will: determine if access to diagnostic studies are feasible at the community level, determine if an intervention for heart failure patients will improve health outcomes and quality of life, evaluate the potential causes of heart failure among Native Hawaiians and Pacific islanders compared with other ethnic groups in Hawai’i and identify families who may have several members affected by heart failure.

A hand-carried ultrasound device designed to detect abnormal heart function may make community level diagnosis possible. The researchers want to determine if the devices are as accurate as the much larger ones in hospitals. They will also see if community health center staff can be trained to take simple readings and tell researchers which patients need care. If this is possible, then the usual long wait for diagnosis at hospitals would be eliminated.

In short, the Heart Disparities Partnership Program aims to synergize the strengths of all partnering organizations to lessen health disparities. "One of the overall goals," says Dr. Seto, "is to improve access to quality health care for Native Hawaiians and other similar at-risk communities so that people can live healthier lives."

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