Based at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health’s satellite campus in Greenville, Dr. Melanie Cozad is an assistant professor with the department of health services policy and management (HSPM) and the South Carolina SmartState Center for Effectiveness Research in Orthopaedics (CERortho). Earlier this year, she and her research team won two awards (best poster for patient engagement research and runner-up for best overall research poster) at the 2018 Greenville Health System Research Showcase. The posters were connected to their research on patient decision-making, which is funded by a grant Dr. Cozad received from Pfizer in 2017.
Working closely with HSPM graduate student Ms. Kaitlyn Crosby, research assistant Ms. Rasmine Baker, and GHS clinical rheumatologist and co-investigator Dr. Gulzar Merchant, Dr. Cozad has been developing a tool that integrates personalized patient-specific preferences into clinical care using the Pfizer $289K grant. The tool measures each patient’s lifestyle goals and priorities (e.g., pain reduction, mobility, fatigue management) and creates a graphic that the patient receives. The graphic is designed to help the patients express what matters to them during the office visit. This type of interaction between patient and provider is a critical component of patient-centered care.
Just a year into the project, the team’s progress was recognized during the recent GHS event. The runner up for best overall research award reflects the focus of the research, which is to create a tool that empowers patients to identify their individualized priorities and express them during an office visit. The best poster for patient engagement research award demonstrates their commitment to continuously incorporating patient feedback through the development of the tool. Several rheumatoid arthritis patients met with Dr. Cozad monthly to receive updates on the research project and to assist with designing and piloting the tool as well as interpreting the results.
“These patients acted more as co-investigators rather than subjects of research,” says Dr. Cozad. “This mentality of including patients as partners in the research process, which is fostered by the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute, is quite new, but the Greenville Health System has supported these types of initiatives.”
Dr. Cozad’s interest in patient-centered care stems from her background as an economist. She earned master’s and doctoral degrees in the field, with concentrations in health, from the University of Tennessee before accepting the Robert E. Hughes Endowed Professorship at Furman University. She joined the Arnold School in 2015.
“As an economist, part of our training surrounds the idea of being able to measure preferences or priorities,” says Dr. Cozad, whose graduate work focused on accessing societal preferences for valuing environmental goods (e.g., clean air, water). “One reason I was drawn to my job with the Arnold School was that everyone has certain preferences or priorities even when it comes to their healthcare, but often patients don’t realize how important their preferences are or how much they matter.”