The three women who are the first doctoral candidates in the School of Medicine’s new PhD in Health Policy program have one guiding belief: economics, decision science and data are now key to improving health care.
Stanford Health Policy, through the Department of Health Research and Policy at the School of Medicine, launched the PhD program to educate the next generation of scholarly leaders in the field of health policy.
And the first crop of candidates is taking their backgrounds in science and economics to pursue health policy careers based on medical information technology, data and analytics.
“We live in an era where information in health care is more rapidly and readily available than ever before,” said Catherine Lei, who will focus on the industrial organization of health care, the effects of insurance costs and the impact of regulation on health insurance markets.
“The burgeoning ‘big data’ revolution is beginning to collectively help researchers tackle long-standing issues of health care spread and quality, determinants of health, and how policies could best improve health,” said the recent Princeton University graduate who majored in economics and finance.
“Whether it be the digitization of medical records, the aggregation of pharmaceutical companies’ research into electronic databases, or the increased transparency of the health-care sector as a whole — stakeholders from every corner of the industry recognize that this is a critical turning point in health care,” said Lei.
Kyu Eun Lee, who worked as a research assistant at the Harvard Center for Health Decision Science before joining Stanford, intends to develop mathematical models for health interventions in Asia and other parts of the developing world.
“I am seeking advanced training in quantitative methodology and the application of those skills to support decision-making in a global health context,” said Lee, who graduated from Pohang University of Science and Technology in South Korea and then got her master’s of science at the University of Minnesota.
“I am particularly interested in model-based, cost-effectiveness analysis of cancer interventions in South or Southeast Asia, where the risks of communicable and noncommunicable diseases compete under limited resources,” she said.
The new program offers coursework in two tracks: Health Economics, including the economic behavior of individuals, providers, insurers and governments and how their actions affect health and medical care; and Decision Sciences, which uses quantitative techniques to assess the effectiveness and value of medical treatments.
“The new PhD program really developed because of our aim to offer premier educational programs that will train the next generation of health policy leaders,” said Laurence Baker, professor of Health Research and Policy and chief of Health Services Research in the department of Health Research and Policy.
“One of the real strengths of the program is its context at Stanford, with a rich set of opportunities for health policy students to interact with the clinicians and scientists from around the school of medicine and the university,” said Baker, who is also an affiliated faculty member at the Center for Health Policy/Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research (CHP/PCOR).
Yiqun Chen, who will focus on the supply and demand of health care both in the United States and China, said her double major in economics and medicine at Peking University made her aware of the integral role that economics plays in providing an analytic framework for studying the meaty issues in health care today.Chen, who went on to get her master’s in economics at Duke University, has published several papers and intends to investigate whether Medicaid payment increases to nursing homes result in cost offsets.
“The utilization of hospital services is high among nursing home residents; yet a large proportion of stays are documented to be avoidable through provision of better quality of nursing home care,” Chen said.
She will also research the recent consolidation of health insurers and of health care providers and how that is impacting the consumer.
“As a result of such consolidation, not only is there a potential loss of consumer choice, but it gives the pricing power to insurers and health-care service suppliers,” Chen said. And those who argue health-care and insurance consolidation results in greater efficiencies have yet to document these gains or losses — something she intends to do.
Faculty belonging to the health policy centers will advise the PhD candidates. The students will take courses in health economics, health insurance and government program operations, health financing, international health policy and economic development, as well as the cost-effectiveness analysis of new medical technologies.
“The PhD program enables us to train clinicians and non-clinicians in state-of-the-art methods of health policy analysis,” said Douglas K. Owens, director of CHP/PCOR within the Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies.
Coursework in the new program will also cover relevant statistical and methodological approaches to public health concerns such as obesity and chronic disease.
"Our PhD students will learn from faculty across the University who bring perspectives from economics, medicine, law, decision science, business and other disciplines," said Michelle Mello, a professor of law and professor of health research and policy at the School of Medicine. "They will become truly cross-disciplinary thinkers and problem solvers."