Fascinating Findings from Massachusetts General Hospital: Recent Research on Alzheimer’s, Patient Navigators and the Wage Gap

By Milo Goodman
Research Institute Intern

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the chance to read about some extremely interesting research studies that were recently conducted by investigators at Mass General.

Out of the dozens I’ve encountered, three have stood out to me in particular: research on sex-based income disparities among physicians, a study on the development of a polygenic risk score to determine one’s chances of developing Alzheimer’s and dementia, and research on the importance of patient assistance for cancer screening rates.

Sex-Based Disparities in Physician Compensation

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Dr. Anupam Jena of the MGH Department of Medicine recently led what is being referred to as one of the largest studies ever conducted on the subject of gender-based salary differences between male and female medical school faculty members.

His team found that, even after adjusting for factors likely to influence income including differences in specialty and year of residency completion, female physicians earn 8% less than their male counterparts on an annual basis.

The size of this study is significant; many previous studies have had similar results, but they were much smaller. Dr. Jena’s study accounted for over 10,000 physicians across the United States, and this data confirms the presence of a disparity in income between the sexes.

Dr. Jena’s research is a crucial step in the process of addressing and ameliorating the persistent problem of sex-based bias and the wage gap in the field of medicine. Read the study here

Determining Risk for Alzheimer’s Disease

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Dr. Elizabeth C. Mormino of Mass General, on the other hand, focused on the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

These diseases are notoriously difficult to diagnose in their early stages, and Dr. Mormino and her colleagues worked to solve this issue by creating a polygenic risk score to identify indicators of Alzheimer’s and dementia in healthy adults as young as 18 years old. The score is based on whether or not one has high-risk gene variants and specific markers of the diseases including memory decline and volume of the hippocampus.

The researchers found that a higher polygenic risk score correlated with greater memory and executive function decline, and each increase in polygenic risk was associated with a 1.6% increase in risk of clinical disease progression.

This data will help physicians to identify those at risk of developing Alzheimer’s or dementia and utilize preventative treatments as early as possible. Read the study here.

Patient Navigator Program Improves Cancer Screening Rates

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Lastly, a new study by Mass General gerontologist Dr. Sanja Percac-Lima and her colleagues found that patient navigators could be used to improve comprehensive cancer screening rates among low-income and minority populations.

Patient navigators are individuals who assist patients in receiving health care services. Their main responsibilities include connecting patients to vital screenings by contacting them in their native language, educating and encouraging them to attend their appointments, and arranging transportation and accompanying them to their visit.

The study had encouraging results – 32% of those who worked with patient navigators completed at least one overdue cancer screening compared to 18% in the control group. Dr. Percac-Lima’s work illustrates the need for these navigators as they address critical health disparities by bridging the gap between at-risk patients and their caregivers. Read the study here.

Closing Thoughts

One of my favorite parts of this internship is learning about the innovation that takes place across Mass General on a daily basis. The work of these researchers is changing the world, and I am thrilled to be watching it happen!

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