A new fellowship aims to bridge the gap between medical innovation and health policy
Stanford physician Kavita Patel discusses the new Biodesign Policy Fellowship. Fellows will learn how new therapies, treatments, and technologies are created and how laws and regulations determine the path into patient care.
Kavita Patel is a primary care physician with extensive health policy expertise and experience working on Capitol Hill and in the White House. As a senior policy analyst for Sen. Edward Kennedy, Patel developed consensus and drafted the 21st Century Cancer ALERT Act, a comprehensive cancer care reform bill, and oversaw policy coordination for the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) under Kennedy’s Leadership. In the Obama administration, Patel developed and evaluated policy initiatives related to health care reform, financial regulatory reform, and economic recovery issues.
Patel joined the Stanford faculty as a professor of medicine in July. As policy director for the Byers Center for Biodesign, she played a key role in creating the Biodesign Policy Fellowship, a new two-year program for professionals working in health systems, regulatory agencies, health tech companies, or the government who are interested in the intersection of health policy and technology innovation.
As a physician, why was it important for you to study health policy and work with policymakers in the federal government?
Working as a physician, even through my training, medical school, residency, fellowship, and beyond, there were many moments where I thought: Why is it that way? Why do we have to fax things? Why are we waiting for so long to get confirmation of the receipt of a prescription from a pharmacy? Why do people with electronic health records not have the same ability to look at others’ records when we have permission? All these questions go back to basics of policy, and understanding policy helps you understand why the system is the way it is today and how it could be different.
I thought that once I understood the way our health system was put together, I would have a better way to think about influencing it, ultimately with the goal of delivering better care.
You’ve recently joined Stanford Center for Biodesign as the director of policy. Can you talk about this new role and your goals within the center?
My role is to help to launch a much more rigorous approach to innovation through the health policy lens. First, we will apply some of the basic Biodesign principles, such as doing a needs assessment to understand the problem, trying to scope solutions to the problem, and identifying experts in the field who can inform those solutions.
Then, we’ll be testing, piloting, and implementing some of those solutions as Biodesign-trained innovators do with medical technology. In the policy world, this means talking to policymakers or looking at problems that we have in health care, and identifying where there could be policy solutions or where there are policy barriers.
Biodesign has just welcomed four new Policy Fellows to campus. What types of skills and experience will the fellows gain over the next two years?
The first year, the fellows will learn some of the skills that are the basics of Biodesign while also experiencing some of the rich offerings around the Stanford campus. Policy Fellows will be able to participate, attend, and audit lectures in the Department of Health Policy, as well as select lectures in the Graduate School of Business, Institute for Human-Centered AI, School of Medicine, and across the campus.
The second year would be in Washington, D.C., where they will put a lot of the policy research and policy work that they’ve acquired in the first year to practice in real-world settings, which could be within the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Office of Management and Budget, the U.S. Senate, or the House of Representatives.
When fellows complete the program, what types of challenges will they be prepared to tackle?
The ideal would be for someone to finish this fellowship and be able to translate that directly into a career in policy, potentially at a senior level in one of the agencies or working for a member of Congress. They will be able to discuss complex concepts in health policy and explain them to a lay audience, which could mean testifying before Congress, briefing administrators with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or speaking to the public about COVID policies, for example. One of the greatest commodities in D.C. is time, and being able to tailor complex issues for a senator who has one minute is incredibly valuable.