Center for Health Services Research

Center for Health Services Research


The mission of the center is to facilitate and conduct rigorous quantitative health services research using secondary data. Our research is clinically and policy relevant and focused on the discovery of new knowledge to enhance quality, value, and satisfaction in the healthcare system. Our research draws lessons from healthcare reform in Vermont to healthcare reform efforts in other states at the national level and internationally.


To use secondary data to make causal inferences about how to change the healthcare system to improve the health of the population.

Adam Atherly, Ph.D., director of the new Center for Health Services Research, meets with his colleague Eline van den Broek-Altenburg, Ph.D.
“A Strength of the College”

In his new role at UVM, Atherly is quick to point out that he joins colleagues who are already leading the way in the field.

“We’re starting a center, but we’re not starting health services research. The Dean’s Office believes about a third of all the research in the college right now is health services research. So it’s already a strength of the college, but it’s a hidden strength. We want to bring this strength to the surface, make it more visible, bring together people who are working separately. We’re building an infrastructure that can connect people.”

UVM Professor and Chair of Biochemistry Gary Stein, Ph.D., director of the UVM Cancer Center, is one such leader. He’s a principal investigator for a five-year, $20 million NIH Clinical and Translational Research grant that is funding a joint program between UVM and Maine Medical Center to develop the Northern New England Clinical and Translational Research Network, which will build capacity and foster collaboration to address health problems endemic in northern New England, including addiction, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, as well as the barriers that compromise rural health care delivery Stein says the Center for Health Services Research comes along at the right time to provide important support to researchers.

“What we really need to understand is how do we fulfill our responsibilities as a medical center? As a cancer center? As a cardiovascular center? As a pulmonary center? As a behavior and health center dealing with problems that relate to addiction? The Center for Health Services Research is positioned to be able to identify and frame the questions that can be asked, that should be asked," says Stein.

Another leader in health services research, UVM Henry and Carleen Tufo Professor of Medicine Benjamin Littenberg, M.D., has been working in the field for over two decades, publishing important work on the management of chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, and obesity. He also trains Ph.D. and master’s degree students in UVM’s Clinical and Translational Science Program.

“We teach students about large data sets, which are the backbone of health services research,” says Littenberg. “Our emphasis is on how to learn from humans and populations about how best to take care of individuals and populations.”

The Center for Health Services Research stands to help students hone their research questions, find collaborators, and provide support for data analysis.

The State of Vermont and Beyond
The Center for Health Services Research promises to bring together regional institutions all looking to improve the delivery of care, says Gordon Jensen, amplifying their collective effect.

“This is probably the best area of alignment of interest between the medical center, the health network, the Larner College of Medicine, and the University. Bar none,” Jensen says. “The medical center and the health network are very interested in health quality, and health quality and health services research you can really view as part of a continuum. We can share our investment and share our resources.”

UVM Associate Professor of Hospital Medicine Allen Repp, M.D., expects the medical center’s leadership on quality improvement — which is focused on prospectively applying evidence to improve clinical practice — to inform the work of the center, and vice versa. As vice chair of quality for the Department of Medicine and director of the primary care internal medicine unit at UVM Medical Center, he sees plenty of opportunities for collaboration across the UVM Health Network.

“As we move towards an integrated electronic health record, we’ll have a wealth of data from all of these different sites that we can leverage,” he says.

In addition to an educational mission, there will also be a connection to state policy makers. UVM Associate Dean for Primary Care Charles MacLean, M.D., says the center is poised to conduct research in real time as Vermont continues to implement changes in how healthcare is paid for and delivered. The Green Mountain Care Board, the Vermont Department of Health, and other state and regional health agencies will all be important partners.

“How should we deliver care; what can we learn about quality of care; do we need more capacity in certain areas? We’ll be able to answer those kinds of questions, and we’ll have the data to be able to back up decisions,” says MacLean.

The Road Ahead
Atherly expects to be conducting many interviews in the months ahead, with two new faculty hires planned for the next year. He’ll be bringing on several programmers as well as claims analysts, data specialists and faculty with expertise in fields including rural health, genomics, pediatric health services research and quality of care. The center’s first new member — Eline van den Broek-Altenburg, Ph.D. — arrived in June of 2018. An assistant professor of psychiatry, she completed her doctorate in health services research with a focus on economics and biostatistics.

In Vermont, she’s looking forward to having plenty of collaborators and colleagues to help puzzle through these research questions and more.

“There’s so much data and so much to study and figure out. And there are so many enthusiastic people who are thrilled to have you working on those things. It’s a really great environment.”

Web Extra: Read more about UVM faculty engaged in health services-related research.

Steve Leffler, M.D.

Healing Communities

As the Larner College of Medicine continues to focus on research related to health services and population health, the UVM Health Network, under the leadership of Chief Population Health and Quality Officer Steve Leffler, M.D., is partnering with local social services agencies to offer programs that address non-medical contributors to poor health and preventable disease.

For example, Housing as Healthcare helps provide housing and support services for individuals experiencing chronic homelessness or living in unsafe conditions that inhibit their recovery from a medical condition. The Community Health Investment Fund supports programs that address basic needs, such as food and housing, as well as initiatives that improve systems for complex problems like opioid addiction.

Read a post from UVM Health Network Chief Population Health and Quality Officer Steve Leffler, M.D (at left) on the UVM Medical Center blog.