Center for the Study of Social Determinants of Health at Meharry Leverages New Partnerships to Develop Innovative Solutions for COVID-Related Health Disparities

Artificial intelligence, mobile health, and community partnerships will support novel approaches to address COVID-19 risk factors and vaccine hesitancy among minority communities


The Center for the Study of Social Determinants of Health (CSSDoH) at Meharry Medical College has announced new programs and partnerships focused on assessing COVID-19 risk factors, pandemic-related mental health challenges, drivers of vaccine hesitancy among minority communities and public health approaches to overcome these issues and optimize health equity.


As the pandemic continues to highlight the impact of a variety of social, environmental, and system-level factors on vulnerable populations, the Center will collaborate with several companies to eliminate health disparities and promote health equity through advanced data analytics and tailored interventions for those most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.


“The pandemic’s disproportionate impact on minority communities is devastating and has expedited Meharry’s efforts to cultivate change and address social determinants of health among the underserved,” said Dr. James E.K. Hildreth, President and CEO of Meharry Medical College. “As an institution, we are dedicated to converting research into practical interventions that can improve health and wellbeing. Data does no good on its own if it’s not translated into real, actionable solutions to address the challenges that plague our communities.”


CSSDoH is collaborating with the following organizations to leverage artificial intelligence, mobile apps, and geospatial analyses to develop new interventions that will reduce barriers to healthcare access and enhance treatment engagement:


  • Emitto World – The Center will leverage a mobile app that can rapidly enhance COVID- 19 risk detection, provide risk mitigation recommendations, integrate with telehealth visits, connect to testing, and be used for contact tracing. The app’s use is scheduled to be expanded throughout retail and clinical locations in the coming months.
  • Microsoft – The collaboration with Microsoft’s AI for Health program will provide the Center with advanced artificial intelligence tools through Azure to identify COVID-19 hotspots, analyze how the pandemic has impacted mental and behavioral health, build mobile apps that address these behavioral health care needs, and predict long-term health outcomes for minority communities.
  • BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee – Meharry will analyze BlueCrossclaims data to identify which communities may be more resistant to receiving vaccines throughout the country. By leveraging artificial intelligence software, the team will determine which individual and population-level factors drive vaccine hesitancy and subsequently tailor interventions to address these factors and build trust in the vaccine process throughout these communities (upon clear evidence of safety/effectiveness and FDA approval).
  • NashvilleHealth, Nashville Health Care Council, and Nashville Area of Commerce – The Center is collaborating with these local organizations to evaluate Nashville’s COVID-19 response and support for vulnerable populations to create locally-driven strategies to improve equitable public health outcomes for future health crises.


“For over 143 years, Meharry has served as a beacon of hope for underserved communities through its mission to advance health equity,” said Dr. Bryan Heckman, Founding Director of the Center and Associate Professor at Meharry Medical College. “It is an honor to stand on the shoulders of giants through our new initiatives to integrate social determinants of health into a precision medicine approach to optimize health equity and better serve our communities, especially those experiencing the heaviest burden of the COVID-19 pandemic.”


In the year since its founding, CSSDoH has focused its research on understanding how social determinants of health produce health care disparities among minority populations. Key areas of concentration for CSSDoH include leading causes of preventable deaths: tobacco and nicotine, substance use (opioids/alcohol) and COVID-19, as well as the impact of physical inactivity and lack of nutrition. The Center also studies treatment adherence for chronic medical conditions: HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, kidney, cardiovascular and mental health. A precision medicine approach informs the development of digital tools to provide evidence-based, individualized, and low-burden interventions to enhance care for underserved communities.


To learn more about the Center’s research, initiatives, and response to COVID-19, please visit:


About Meharry Medical College

Meharry Medical College, founded in 1876, is the nation’s largest private, independent historically black academic health sciences center dedicated to educating minorities and other health professionals. True to its heritage, it is a United Methodist Church related institution. The College is particularly well known for its uniquely nurturing, highly effective educational programs; emerging preeminence in health disparities research; culturally sensitive, evidence-based health services and significant contribution to the diversity of the nation’s health professions workforce. Meharry is a leading national educator of African Americans with M.D. and D.D.S. degrees and Ph.D. degrees in the biomedical sciences.

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