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Health Equity, Working to Identify Effective Policy Interventions

Dr. Peiyin Hung’s academic passion lies in rural health and learning how to help people in those more sparsely populated areas get the care they need.

“Rural America, in general, really suffers from a lot of challenges in just [getting] to risk-appropriate care,” Hung said. “It’s very challenging for them.”

Compared to the average person living in urban areas, people in rural communities often suffer from more inadequate access to healthcare, experience lower quality of care, and have higher mortality risk, Hung said in an email.

Hung is assistant professor of health services policy and management in the University of South Carolina’s (USC) Arnold School of Public Health. She has spent the better part of 14 years in this field. Since 2009, she’s been engaged in research relating to health services and health equity, she said.

“My work has been integrated into three areas, mostly centered on big data analytics,” Hung said. “I build statistical models to simulate rural healthcare delivery processes. I also look into the underlying mechanisms of spatial and temporal differences in healthcare access, health outcomes, and patient well-being. In addition, I identify effective health policy interventions by really looking at different natural experiments and different healthcare behaviors and interventions to address health disparities and equity.” Dr. Peiyin HungDr. Peiyin Hung

Of particular interest to her is the process of childbirth, which she called “fundamentally important to one’s health and well-being.”

Hung earned her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health; her MSPH from the Emory University Rollins School of Public Health; a certificate in medical management from the University of Washington School of Public Health; and a BBA from Chung-Shan Medical University. She said she chose to take on the USC appointment as her first faculty position and to continue in academia, in part, because she wanted to help uplift others.

“I feel like a lot of teachers changed my life,” she said. “They made a difference in my life. I want to influence people, especially international students and scholars, and really help and support them, ... lift them up to help them pursue their dreams.”

Public health is a field inseparable from the world today, as evidenced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Hung said the pandemic compounded disparities in access to quality health care. In particular, she said, racial disparities in access to prenatal care were exacerbated amid the pandemic.

“We know, among pregnant women, there were huge variations and gaps in access in prenatal care or [access to] labor and delivery with appropriate acuity or capacity to provide high-risk cesarean or medically indicated procedures to the populations in need,” Hung said. “And even worse is that we saw that these kinds of disparities were larger in the communities that have more Black residents or higher minority residential segregation.”

Hung said the pandemic also increased the need for telehealth services for rural communities.

“We saw a big spike of telehealth or telemedicine services,” explains Hung, adding that the pandemic increased the need for such services as several hospital-based obstetric and mental health care units closed in rural areas. “Telehealth can fit into this gap so that there is better access to care because [patients] don’t have to travel hundreds of miles away to reach a specialist.”

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