The Impact of Medicaid Expansion on Population Health Outcomes: Many states have opted to expand Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act. For this project, you could evaluate the effect of Medicaid expansion on key population health outcomes like mortality rates, rates of preventable hospitalizations, management of chronic conditions, and access to care. You would need to choose a state that expanded Medicaid and a comparison state that did not expand to conduct a quantitative analysis of health data pre- and post-expansion. This could provide insights into how public policy decisions around Medicaid directly impact population health.
Role of Community Health Centers in Improving Access to Care: Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs) like community health centers play an important role in providing primary care to underserved communities. For this project, you could assess the impact of new or expanded FQHCs on measures of healthcare access in the surrounding community such as rates of uninsured, number of primary care visits, use of emergency departments for non-emergency needs, timeliness of appointments, etc. through analysis of public usage data. Qualitative research like interviews with center administrators and patients could also provide insights into how FQHCs meet the needs of their target populations and how public policy could better support their mission.
Evaluating Childhood Vaccine Exemption Policies: In recent years, some states have enacted laws tightening exemptions that parents can claim to opt children out of required school vaccinations. For this project, you could do a comparative case study analysis of different state exemption laws to identify features associated with higher vs. lower overall rates of vaccine exemption. Qualitative research through interviews could explore stakeholder perspectives on these policies. You could then make recommendations on how states may strengthen vaccine mandate laws to balance public health and individual freedoms. Appropriate use of vaccines is a prime example of how public policy directly impacts health outcomes.
Improving Care Transitions to Reduce Hospital Readmissions: Reducing preventable hospital readmissions is a major policy priority and financial burden for the healthcare system. For this project, you could partner with a local hospital to evaluate its current care transition process and suggest evidence-based improvements grounded in best practices from the literature. For example, you may recommend integrating more home visits by nurses/community health workers post-discharge, embedding pharmacists in the transition process, improving communication of discharge plans to primary care providers, engaging patients and families more actively in self-management, etc. Quantitative analysis of hospital data could then measure impact of implemented changes on readmissions rates. This connects health administration practice with policy goals.
Exploring Impact of Social Determinants on Population Mental Health: Where people live, learn, work, and play impacts health in major ways. Social and economic factors like poverty, education, housing stability, food security, environmental hazards are strong determinants of mental health and illness in communities. For this project, you could conduct both quantitative and qualitative research in a community heavily impacted by social problems to better understand how underlying determinants shape mental health outcomes. Analysis of population-level data along with resident interviews/focus groups could then inform targeted policy recommendations to address root causes through interventions in housing, education, employment support, community development and more. Addressing social determinants is a growing public health policy priority.
Assessing Regional Approaches to the Opioid Epidemic: The opioid overdose crisis requires a multi-pronged public health response that extends beyond addiction treatment into safer prescribing, prevention, harm reduction and enforcement. For this project, you could evaluate differences in strategies and outcomes across states or regions using a mixed-methods approach. Quantitative analysis could measure impacts on overdose rates, NAT deaths, prescribing behaviors while qualitative research involves interviews with those implementing programs. A comparative case study analysis could then highlight promising practices and policies working in some areas but not others to inform a more coordinated, evidence-based response across levels of government.
In each case, the capstone would thoroughly explore relevant background, methodology for data collection and analysis, results and discussion of key findings, and conclusions with specific recommendations for public policy improvements. There are endless opportunities to address important healthcare challenges through policy-oriented research and projects that advance the goals of population health and health systems administration. With sufficient depth and methodological rigor, such a substantial policy-focused paper could serve as a valuable capstone experience.