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U-M researchers receive prestigious Health Policy Research awards


ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Three faculty members from the University of Michigan Medical School have been selected by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as recipients of its 2008 Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research.
The RWJF Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research support researchers whose cross-cutting and innovative ideas promise to contribute meaningfully to improving health and health care policy. The program provides one of the few funding opportunities in the United States for investigator-initiated projects that are broad in scope, innovative in approach, and have national policy relevance.

Award recipients Howard Markel, M.D., Ph.D., the George E. Wantz Distinguished Professor of the History of Medicine and Alexandra Minna Stern, Ph.D., the Zina Pitcher Collegiate Professor in the History of Medicine, will study the history of non-pharmaceutical interventions and community experiences during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic in the United States. NPIs are social distancing measures, and include isolation of the ill, quarantine of those suspected of having contact with the ill, school and selected business closure, and public gathering cancellations. The two medical historians, director and associate director respectively of the U-M Center for the History of Medicine, were selected for their contributions to improving health policy as it relates to influenza pandemic planning.

The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 was the deadliest contagious calamity in human history, killing 650,000 people in the United States and 50 million worldwide. In the U.S., communities had varying experiences during the pandemic. To understand why, Markel and Stern are using extensive historical research and analysis to conduct a comprehensive review of the strategies 43 large U.S. cities used during the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. Key foci on their study are cities’ demographic and housing characteristics, morbidity and mortality patterns, political leadership and coordination among government agencies, supply of health care facilities and medical personnel, volunteerism and compliance with public health measures.

Their project, History Informing Public Health Preparedness Policy in the 21st Century: A Qualitative Study of Non-Pharmaceutical Interventions and Community Experiences during the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic, aims to extract lessons that can inform public health policymaking and preparedness planning today and lead to effective public health measures during the next influenza pandemic.

Peter A. Ubel, M.D., the George Dock Collegiate Professor of Internal Medicine and Director of the Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine at the U-M, has also received an Investigator Award for his project Emotional Adaptation and the Goals of Health Care Policy.

Researchers have shown that people can adapt emotionally to a wide range of adverse circumstances. However, predictions are often wrong about how fully people will or will not adapt to serious physical or mental illness and disability. Ubel plans to examine how beliefs about quality of life affect the choices made when patients seek treatment for illness, when payers determine coverage policies, and when policy-makers weigh programmatic or financial options. He will also analyze what role well-being should play in determining health care priorities, and how policies that aim to maximize health should address conditions where improving physical functioning and well-being do not go hand in hand. Ubel’s project attempts to break new ground by introducing insights from well-being research, or research that studies how physical illness and emotional well-being are intertwined, to debates about the cost-effectiveness of medical treatments, coverage decisions by payers, and discussions about health care priorities in the United States.

Ubel was selected for his contributions to improving health policy as it relates to health care decision making. At the Center for Behavioral and Decision Sciences in Medicine, his research explores controversial issues about the role of values and preferences in health care decision making, from decisions at the bedside to policy decisions. He uses the tools of decision psychology and behavioral economics to investigate topics such as informed consent, shared decision making, and health care rationing.

Founded in 1850, the University of Michigan Medical School is the crown jewel of an internationally renowned medical center. It occupies more than two million square feet of research and teaching space and is consistently rated among the top ten medical schools in the United States. Last year, scientists at the Medical School were awarded more than $342,000,000 in grants and research funds. The University of Michigan Medical School has granted more than 18,000 medical degrees since 1850 and has educated thousands of residents and biomedical researchers. At present, 672 medical students at the University of Michigan are actively working toward their M.D. degree. Another 970 graduate students are pursuing their Ph.D. degrees. The medical school’s faculty numbers more than 2,600 members, many of them international leaders in academic medicine, and 1,050 interns, residents and fellows are enrolled in training programs.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation’s largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 35 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. When it comes to helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need, the Foundation expects to make a difference in your lifetime.


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