Amber Barnato Named to Endowed Professorship in Health Care Delivery

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The physician is known for her research on physician decision-making for patients with serious illness.

Amber Barnato
Physician Amber Barnato has been named the inaugural Susan J. and Richard M. Levy 1960 Distinguished Professor in Health Care Delivery. She will being work July 1. (Photo by Korri Crowley)

Physician Amber Barnato, acclaimed for her research on physician decision-making for patients with serious illness, has been named the inaugural Susan J. and Richard M. Levy 1960 Distinguished Professor in Health Care Delivery.

Barnato’s faculty appointment is as a professor of health policy and clinical practice at The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice (TDI) at the Geisel School of Medicine. She also has an appointment as a professor of medicine in the Department of Medicine at Geisel. Barnato is the first appointment to the Susan J. and Richard M. Levy 1960 Academic Cluster in Health Care Delivery. She begins work in Hanover on July 1.

She is currently associate professor of medicine, clinical and translational science, and health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Graduate School of Public Health. She is also director of the Section of Decision Science in the Department of Medicine.

“As the inaugural Levy cluster appointment, Amber Barnato will bring her passion, energy, and insight in the field of health care delivery science to the development of this new research cluster,” says President Phil Hanlon ’77. “Her considerable talents will be an important asset as we bring world-class scholars together in interdisciplinary academic groups to take on the world’s most pressing problems.”

The Levy cluster is one of 10 interdisciplinary academic groups President Hanlon created to extend Dartmouth’s impact on major global challenges. In 2014, the College received a $100 million gift from an anonymous donor, and half of the gift was a match toward creation of the academic clusters. Collaborating with peers across campus, faculty in the clusters will create new knowledge, enrich the learning experience of students, and make Dartmouth a magnet for top faculty and students, Hanlon says.

Barnato says she’s excited about the opportunity to be part of TDI’s nationally recognized research into how public policy, including the design of payment models, can improve the efficiency of health care systems and, ultimately, the quality of care and the health and well-being of the public. With the development of a health care delivery cluster, Dartmouth has further distinguished itself in the field, she says.

“What most attracted me to Dartmouth and The Dartmouth Institute is the institutional commitment, prioritization, and value placed on health care delivery science. That is very rare in academic medicine.” Barnato says.

Richard “Dick” Levy ’60 has committed $10 million to support Barnato and two yet-to-be-hired faculty members who will marshal forces from across the institution to develop and promote new models of care that seek to control costs, empower patients, and deliver quality and value to patients and providers. This is a critical mission for our time, and the appointment of Barnato is an important step, Levy says.

“The cluster program has the potential not just to transform how health care is delivered, but also to help establish Dartmouth as a leader in understanding and solving complex societal problems through multi-disciplinary teaming,” he says. “This challenge will require the academic and leadership capabilities that Professor Barnato has demonstrated in the past. I am anxious to see her in action.”

Dartmouth faculty led work nationally that resulted in the implementation of accountable care organizations, an innovative health care payment and delivery model. More than 700 ACOs have been established across the U.S., with strong public and private sector support.

Geisel Dean Duane Compton says Barnato will be a valuable resource for the College, TDI, and the medical school.

“I look forward to Amber Barnato’s impact on our research and education programs. She is renowned for her work on variation in acute-care use, with a particular focus on end-of-life care, and she has had a powerful impact through her ability to draw together clinicians, economists, and other social scientists to study patient-centered decision-making processes,” Compton says.

Barnato says her interest in health care delivery science began before medical school, when she was a research assistant in the office of disease prevention and health promotion of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. After graduating with her MD from Harvard Medical School, she earned an MPH in health policy and administration from the University of California at Berkeley and a master of science degree in health services research from Stanford University. Barnato earned her undergraduate degree at Berkeley, majoring in physiology.

Her research has focused primarily on understanding the causes and consequences of variation in intensive care at the end of life, with a particular interest in how social norms shape the interactions between patients, families, physicians, and other health care professionals.

“How a health care system treats patients with serious, life-limiting illness is a bellwether of its overall function,” she says. “My work focuses on identifying what could be done differently to increase the health system’s capacity to honor individuals’ values, to treat them with compassion, and to prevent or mitigate distress.”

Barnato joins cluster faculty members Rahul Sarpeshkar, the inaugural Thomas E. Kurtz Chair in the William H. Neukom Academic Cluster in Computational Science, and Associate Professor of Economics Treb Allen, who is working in the Challenges and Opportunities of Globalization cluster. 

Bill Platt