Leading Voices in Health Care Policy Podcast

You’re listening to “Leading Voices in Health Care Policy”, a podcast brought to you by the department of health care policy at Harvard Medical School. I’m Lauren Jett.


The department of health care policy’s mission is to "improve the health of the public through comprehensive health policy research." One of ten core basic and social science departments at Harvard Medical School, it has the largest research portfolio and full time faculty in health policy at Harvard University.


But how did it all begin? Let’s dive into some history about the department:


In 1987, two forces led the administration of Harvard Medical School to consider creating a new “quadrangle-based” department devoted to health policy.


The first was the belief that health care policy was becoming more relevant to physicians at all stages of their careers.


The second was the pending arrival of Joseph P. Newhouse as the new leader of the university-wide Division of Health Policy Research and Education.


The school believed that physicians were likely to play an increasingly important role in health policy in future years, and that interactions with social scientists would be mutually beneficial.


Thus, plans for a new academic department of health care policy began. Barbara J. McNeil led the progression of these plans and later became head of the new department—a position she holds to this day.


Starting a new department was challenging, especially because there was no obvious roadmap to describe ideal types of faculty, students, or post-doctoral fellows, what kinds of courses were suitable for medical students, and the scope of a multidisciplinary research portfolio.


At the time, most health policy groups were located either in schools of public health with faculty drawn largely from the social sciences, or in research groups whose primary mission was not academic.


Harvard wished to have a department where physicians and social scientists were on equal footing- who taught and did research together, who were located in the same physical space, and had the same chances of academic advancement. In the late 80s, this was a novel idea.


Since that time, approximately 15 other medical schools have established academic departments, centers, or divisions devoted to research and education in health policy.


The Harvard department came together quickly. Three of its founding members, Paul D. Cleary, Arnold M. Epstein, and Barbara J. McNeil, were already close friends and collaborators.


Joseph P. Newhouse quickly joined the group upon his arrival to Boston. Together they searched for a statistician, and recruited Constantine Gatsonis [GAT-SON-IS] from the Department of Statistics at Carnegie Mellon.


This group felt that its combined expertise allowed the department to study important policy areas related to health care costs, patient outcomes, clinical effectiveness, and technology assessment.


Early on, there was an immediate need for another social scientist. Paul Cleary identified Edward Guadagnoli [GUAD-A-NOLI] from Brown University as the best candidate.


This new group, along with colleagues from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, organized its first collaborative research project—one of the first Patient Outcome Research Teams on acute myocardial [MY-O-CAR-DIAL] infarction [IN-FARK-SHUN].


This grant provided a model for research that has continued to this day: multidisciplinary groups that have a statistician, a physician, and one or two social scientists devoting time to the project.


Today, the department of health care policy has approximately 20 full-time core faculty members with a primary research appointment here, and often secondary appointments in affiliated teaching hospitals or other Harvard schools.

Another 12 affiliated faculty have secondary or part-time appointments in the department.

Health Care Policy faculty members have served on Med-PAC, the CBO Panel of Health Advisers, PCORI, and many other national and federal advisory groups.

Seventy percent of the core faculty members have been elected to the Institute of Medicine, and one to the National Academy of Sciences. They also serve on several private and public boards.

The research at health care policy covers multiple areas related to quality, costs, and access, much of which is related to new or proposed health care efforts both locally and nationally.

The department succeeds because of its close relationships with policy makers and collaborators throughout the country.

The department has a rich educational program and runs one of the highest ranking courses at Harvard Medical School, a required course in health policy for first year medical students.

Over 100 doctoral students have been educated in health policy and the department is a co-sponsor of the Harvard Medical School/Harvard Business School MD/MBA program.

The department of Health Care Policy continues to find new, innovative ways to impact the field of health policy by collaborating with specialists in and out of the department. As the landscape changes, the department will continue to work to make an impact to improve quality of care for those who need it.


That’s all for this episode of Leading Voices in Health Care Policy. From the department of health care policy at Harvard Medical School, I’m Lauren Jett. For more of the top news and updates on health care policy, be sure to follow us on twitter at HCPHMS and check out our website at hcp.med.harvard.edu.