Research to cure a field in turmoil

The U.S. health care system is in turmoil. And the people who run it and shape it are looking for good advice on how to manage the upheaval.

The folks at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics (LDI), which brings together faculty from four Penn schools — Medicine, Dental Medicine, Nursing and Wharton — have plenty of advice, based on the latest research in the field. And the institute gets that advice to those who need it — health care executives, legislators and others with a stake in how health care is delivered in America.

“We believe research is done when you can communicate the results in an effective way to someone in a position to make a difference,” said David Asch, the Robert D. Eilers Associate Professor of Medicine and Health Care Management and Economics and the institute’s executive director.

More than 4,000 subscribers in industry, government and advocacy receive the LDI’s “Issue Briefs” — faculty research summarized in accessible language — on a regular basis, and the institute mails out additional briefs to people who might be interested in a particular subject.

According to “Issue Briefs” editor Janet Weiner, associate director for health policy, people pay attention. “We did an issue brief about a year ago on a Jeane Ann Grisso [professor of general internal medicine] article in the Journal of the American Medical Association on violence against women in emergency rooms, and we did a special targeted mailing that included [Philadelphia] Police Commissioner John Timoney.

“Less than a week later, I got a call from someone in the department who was putting together a new domestic-violence initiative and who wanted more information on the subject. I put him in touch with Grisso. That officer would never have thought of speaking to her if he had not seen that issue brief.”

The institute’s two seminar series — one on research, one on policy — draw more of an on-campus audience.

“When you look at the people they have brought in [for the seminars], if you’re in health care, it’s the All-Star Game,” said Jeffrey Lerner, senior vice president for strategic planning at ECRI, a Plymouth Meeting-based health care technology research and testing organization, who attends as many seminars as he can. Lerner added that the seminars’ small size and informal setting let participants to get up close and personal with some of the biggest names in health care.

“And it’s great for the students, too, because they have a chance to meet with those people privately,” he said.

LDI also offers executive-education programs, through Wharton, for health care professionals and executives. The programs benefit the faculty as well as the students, Asch said. “The teachers learn what it’s like on the front lines and avoid becoming academic in the worst sense of the word.”

To further extend its reach, the institute is preparing something new — PowerPoint slide presentations that can be downloaded from its Web site. “If you are, say, a professor at Northwestern, you might download these slides for your talk,” he said. “If you are a child advocate, you can use them in your presentations.”

Leonard Davis, a pioneering insurer who founded the American Association of Retired Persons in part as a vehicle to sell insurance to the elderly, established the institute with his wife Sophie in 1967. “He saw that the key was studying the economic and social forces that shaped health care,” Asch said.


Originally published on March 1, 2001