UC Doctor Wants To Get Health Information To Black Community Through New App

Nov 3, 2020

A UC cardiologist is teaming with researchers in Missouri and Georgia to create a smartphone app providing COVID-19 information and education tailored to Black communities.

"We've learned that there are racial disparities within outcomes within COVID and access to testing within COVID," says Donald Lynch, MD, assistant professor of cardiovascular health and disease at UC. "We've uncovered a lot of disparities here in Ohio and across the country. In some places, like St. Louis, up to 60% or more of the cases are within African Americans and so that's a major disparity and something we need to address using a variety of methods."

As of Oct. 30, there were 212,782 cases of COVID-19 in Ohio, according to the state's coronavirus dashboard. Black Ohioans accounted for more than 35,000 of those cases, or 16.5% despite being only 14% of the population.

Lynch and public health researchers at Georgia Southern University and Washington University in St. Louis aim to bridge those gaps using mobile technology to reach more people who may or may not be connected with a health care system or have access to medical care. They're starting with focus groups and community leaders in Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Princeton, Georgia. Lynch expects it will take several months to get an idea of what kind of information people need and want, what features an app should have, and what gaps need addressing. It will then be beta-tested by community members interested in volunteering.

He envisions the app providing information on COVID-19 testing sites, self-screening, and providing resources on testing, general health information, and how to access a health care center if necessary.

While the pandemic is the impetus for the project, it's not the only health care need the app will target. Lynch says it will focus on cardiovascular health, too.

"There's still a lot of people who don't have access to health care or health care providers. We have a lot of people out in the community that have high blood pressure that's either not treated at all or under-treated and that's why it's important to coordinate cardiovascular screening into this app as well," he says, pointing out heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the U.S. "COVID's continuing to unmask disparities within cardiovascular treatment, and I think that's part of the true importance of this project, as well."

The app will undergo rigorous scientific screening, be vetted by the Institutional Review Board, and be designed to maintain user privacy, Lynch adds.

"I want the community to be empowered. I want us to bring this mobile health-based technology into the hands of the community so it has ready access to information about COVID but also about cardiovascular disease and other areas of disease impacting African Americans disproportionately."

The Association of Black Cardiologists is awarding Lynch $25,000 toward the app pilot study.

Correction: A version of this story that aired on 91.7 WVXU and NPR One mistakenly identified Dr. Donald Lynch as "David."