The Next Frontier
An obstetrician and researcher pushes for patients to get STI prescriptions for themselves and their partners
When Okeoma Mmeje (M.D. and MPH 2006), assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, was a resident, she began to see how her research on the treatment and prevention of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) could help shape health policies and benefit a larger community.
“Seeing an issue with one patient, you have to assume that it’s not only impacting that person, but others,” says Mmeje, also a member of the U-M Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation and an adjunct professor at the School of Public Health.
With training in reproductive infectious diseases, Mmeje is uniquely positioned to study how novel treatments affect larger populations. Such a treatment is expedited partner therapy (EPT), an approach that allows patients who test positive for an STI to receive medication or a prescription for themselves and their partner, even if the partner was not seen by a doctor.
Mmeje found that in states that allow EPT, the incidence of certain STIs was lower. There were also fewer recurring infections. Because some STIs can cause lingering reproductive health complications, EPT shows promise in reducing health care costs and expenditures in the long-term.
“When trying to think about how to stop the STI epidemic, the question is: Can we find a way to support treatment of both partners?” Mmeje says. “I think that’s the next frontier. We’ve definitely shown that EPT is safe and effective, but how do we get it to more people?”
EPT was approved for use in Michigan in January 2015. Since then, Mmeje has worked with Michigan Medicine to ensure that patients diagnosed with chlamydia or gonorrhea are being offered EPT. Michigan Medicine also is collaborating with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to implement and address the barriers to EPT uptake in Michigan.
“I think you get real satisfaction from your work when you’re able … to think about how we can use health care innovation and discovery to affect communities and society at large,” Mmeje says. “Being involved in research that has helped advance policies has been very meaningful to me.”
Photo by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography