Building a smart and connected rural community for improved healthcare access through the deployment of integrated mobility solutions
Lead PI:
Jun Liu

Various programs have been established to extend and promote healthcare services to low-income rural Americans facing financial barriers. These programs offer a wide range of healthcare services at little to no cost. However, despite the availability of these services, challenges arise in bringing patients to healthcare providers in a timely manner for healthcare. Many individuals in rural communities are unable to receive recommended services, primarily due to transportation challenges. These challenges, in turn, significantly impact their care-seeking behaviors and hinder their access to timely healthcare. Patient no-shows not only delay diagnoses but also result in lost revenue for healthcare providers due to under-utilization of medical facilities and staff resources. To address these issues, the ongoing mobility transformation fueled by on-demand services may offer affordable transportation solutions to improve healthcare access and reshape care-seeking behaviors among people in under-served communities. This project focuses on West Alabama, specifically the health-disadvantaged Black Belt region, to investigate preventive care-seeking behaviors. The primary objective is to explore the impacts of on-demand mobility services on these behaviors among under-served individuals.

This project will create a Smart and Connected Rural Community (SCRC) comprised of interdisciplinary researchers, healthcare providers, transportation providers, and community stakeholders to promote preventive healthcare in rural communities through deploying on-demand mobility services. This project will conduct integrative research with objectives covering both technological and social science dimensions: 1) Technological Dimension – By partnering with local health providers and transportation providers, this project will develop a Smart Health and Mobility System (SHMS) to leverage and coordinate existing transportation resources within the study area to offer on-demand mobility services to patients and doctors/nurses in need of traveling between medical facilities and patient homes; 2) Social Science Dimension – Through community engagement activities (e.g., meetings, focus groups, and surveys), this project will explore the impacts of on-demand mobility services on preventive care-seeking behaviors among uninsured or under-insured patients. This project will significantly advance the knowledge by exploring the impacts of mobility services on care-seeking behaviors in disadvantaged rural communities. The knowledge will aid healthcare providers and stakeholders make informed decisions to leverage emerging mobility services to deliver cost-effective healthcare services and improve quality of life in disadvantaged rural communities. The project is expected to set the groundwork for implementing on-demand mobility solutions to enhance healthcare in these areas.

This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.

Jun Liu
Dr. Jun Liu is a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering at the University of Alabama (UA), and the Director of the NextGen Transportation Lab at UA. He received his PhD in Civil Engineering from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Prior to joining UA in 2018, Dr. Liu worked as a transportation planner at the Virginia Department of Transportation and as a post-doc researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. Dr. Liu's areas of research interests are innovations related to shared mobility, travel behavior, road safety, responder safety, transportation planning, intelligent transportation systems, connected and/or automated vehicles, and sustainable transportation. He possesses expertise in Big Data analytics, machine learning, agent-based modeling, micro- and macro-simulations, spatial and/or temporal modeling, and statistical analysis. Dr. Liu has published over 200 scholarly works, encompassing book chapters, journal articles, conference papers, and technical reports. Since joining UA in 2018, Dr. Liu has made significant contributions to securing $11.9 million in funding. He has been awarded a total of 19 projects, with 14 of them as the Principal Investigator (PI) and 5 as a Co-PI. The funding sources include prestigious organizations such as the National Science Foundation (NSF), US Department of Transportation (US DOT), AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, State Departments of Transportation (Alabama and Georgia), and various local agencies. Dr. Liu currently serves as an Assistant/Associate Editor for the Journal of Intelligent Transportation Systems: Technology, Planning, and Operations, a Handling Editor for Transportation Research Record: Journal of Transportation Research Board, and an Editorial Board Member for Accident Analysis & Prevention and the Journal of Safety Research. Additionally, he is actively contributing to the academic community as a Paper Review Coordinator for the TRB Committee on Artificial Intelligence and Advanced Computing (AED50) for TRB Annual Meetings, and an Area Editor for The Joint COTA International Conference of Transportation Professionals. Dr. Liu also served on the Organizing Committee for the Bridging Transportation Researchers (BTR) Conference (BTR#1, BTR#2, and BTR#3). Dr. Liu is a member of the TRB Committee on Geo-spatial Data Acquisition Technologies (AKD80) and a member/friend of the TRB Standing Committee on Transportation Safety Management (ACS10). He was (2016-2019) a member of the TRB Standing Committee on Visualization in Transportation (AED80). Dr. Liu has served on an NSF Panel for the Humans, Disasters, and the Built Environment (HDBE) Program, and he also served as a panelist for the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) project titled "State and Local Impacts of Automated Freight Transportation Systems" under the project number NCHRP 20-102(22).
Performance Period: 10/01/2023 - 09/30/2024
Institution: University of Alabama Tuscaloosa
Award Number: 2303284