What is your research? How did you get into research, why this area?
During my medical school studies, I became interested in figuring out ways to apply the science I was learning to real world applications. I had done basic science research, but it was too far removed from direct patient care so I became interested in finding more clinically based research during my residency.
I earned my masters in Public Health as a cardiology fellow and looked at research from the angle of broad based population health which is my interest.
The general area of my research is as a cardiovascular outcomes researcher. I am not designing or inventing new therapies, but taking the therapies we know work in controlled research settings and studying how they are applied in real world practice. Outcomes research is grounded in the six domains of health care quality which ask is the treatment we are delivering safe, effective, patient-centered, timely, efficient, and equitable.
Why is this important?
I am interested in health disparities, which translates to populations that aren’t receiving treatments or where there aren’t any studies being done. My recent interest is in gender. We know that women with CVD are more likely to die and have other poor outcomes compared to men but we do not know why. It is true that men are at overall higher risk of CVD compared to women, yet, even in women and men with equal risk, women receive less diagnosis and treatment. My research focuses on understanding potential reasons for these differences.
Currently, I am interested in understanding the potential role of gender bias and stereotyping in how providers approach clinical decisions. Social psychologists have shown that all people have unconscious attitudes and beliefs that affect how we make decisions. Health care providers are no different. I am working with some social psychologists to learn how to apply their techniques to study unconscious bias and learn is how this potentially plays into treatment decisions.
Specifically, a new tool I will begin to use in my research is the Implicit Association Tests (IATs). This test was highlighted in Malcom Gladwell’s book Blink which talks about how people make quick decisions to handle complex situations based. The IAT measures automatic or unconscious associations between certain concepts such as gender and social roles. For example, the IAT has shown that in general people associate women with the role of caretaker and men with the role of working professional.
We plan to take these insights in other areas of research and learn how to apply them to a clinical realm, asking if these attitudes are applied in treatment. For example, are women patients viewed as being weaker or more risk averse compared to men and therefore, providers are less likely to offer them invasive therapies?
If we find the gender bias is associated with differences in treatment, we believe that making physicians aware that these biases exist is the first step to eliminating them. In addition, social psychologists have shown that there are counterstereotyping techniques such as efforts to empower women patients to take a more active role in their treatment and having providers focus on women as strong individuals who are willing to undergo invasive procedures.
What are your hopes and dreams for your research?
My big dream is to ultimately figure out the root causes of health disparities based on ethnicity and gender, and find ways to eliminate them to make health care a truly equitable system.
I want to take what I’m learning and apply it and actually see results in the delivery of health care – to truly see tangible evidence of this. And I want to change how health care is delivered, even making it more automated in some ways to take some of the potential for biases out of the decision making process.
20 years from now, I hope I can look back and say this early work changed the way we deliver health care – and also know that we fundamentally helped patients know how to advocate for themselves, understand they are at equal risks, pursue better access to health care, and potentially eliminate disparities in health care.
How could we report on your work in a way that could be understood and valued by the general public?
Keep doing a lot of community education especially for women – women get their information through their own communities and each other.