“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
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,
., 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
“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
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
— arrived in June
of 2018. An assistant professor of psychiatry,
she completed her doctorate in health
services research with a focus on economics
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.