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Group gains national attention for economic healthcare research

UM is a research-based institution where professors work on new ideas in their field. The professor research series, which highlights an area of research spearheaded by a university professor, will conclude with this feature.

Eleven years ago, University of Miami professor Michael French envisioned a research project that would combine the expertise of different academic disciplines in order to analyze the economic aspect of healthcare.

“We wanted to offer health economic research at the university,” French said. “Also, we wanted to foster collaboration among academic departments on both the medical and main campuses.”

Over a decade later, the project has become fully realized.

The department of sociology’s Health Economics Research Group (HERG), as it is called, has gained national attention for its accomplishment in providing important economic data on the country’s healthcare system.

Based in the Department of Sociology, HERG takes data from many representative groups in various states and uses the statistics to report the costs, benefits and delivery of healthcare.

“We use primary and secondary data to make models using current econometric methods,” Catherine Maclean, senior research associate, said.

HERG’s topics of research include substance abuse treatment and prevention programs to HIV/AIDS educational programs, adolescent health, criminal justice program and cancer treatment and prevention.

However, the bulk of the research goes toward behavioral healthcare. The research team examined the outcomes of substance abuse rehabilitation programs by evaluating the in-prison drug treatment programs in many correctional facilities across the country.

With the extensive research, HERG has produced findings that national policymakers often refer to when they make decisions. For example, legislators often consider HERG results to give or cut back funding for public-supported healthcare programs.

HERG has an annual budget of $1 million, the majority of which is from state governments, the National Institute of Health, the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Despite having grown to a large-scale nationally known project, HERG stays humble for its own good. The project has been able to avoid biased research that may please a particular party of lawmakers.

“It’s nice to have policymakers look at our data,” French said. “However, we need to remain objective.”

“We can’t say that a particular issue is right wrong,” he said. “That is up to them.”

The impact of a research project such as HERG is substantial. Its findings help private and public agencies determine how best to allocate their scarce resources for a fund-demanding area such as public healthcare.

“What we are doing is timely, and the work we do helps society,” Maclean said.

HERG is unique in that even though it is composed of mostly economists from the department of sociology, it gains knowledge by collaboration with other schools in the university. This team effort enables HERG to produce broader results.

French has been principal investigator or project leader on numerous research projects, including his current role as the director of HERG.

He has written many peer-reviewed articles on health economics that have been published in scholarly journals.

Bryce Pham can be contacted at b.pham1@umiami.edu.

April 7, 2006

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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly in print on Tuesdays during the regular academic year.