Shoshanna Sofaer is a Managing Researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), a non-profit research and technical assistance organization whose mission is to apply social science research methods to improving the lives of people, in particular those who are most vulnerable. From 1998 through 2014, she was the Robert P. Luciano Professor of Health Care Policy at the School of Public Affairs, Baruch College, City University of New York (CUNY), and a faculty member for the CUNY Doctoral Program in Public Health. Dr. Sofaer is completing her first term as a member of the Board of AcademyHealth and seeks re-election. She is a member of the AcademyHealth Membership Committee and its new Communication Committee. In addition, as a Board member, she has supported, and intends to continue to support, the Academy’s efforts in diversity and inclusion in health services and policy research. Dr. Sofaer was an original member of the Methods Council, and has participated frequently in designing and carrying out methods workshops both around and at the Annual Research Meeting in her specialty areas of Qualitative and Mixed Methods. On her last sabbatical, Dr. Sofaer served as a Senior Fellow at AcademyHealth focusing on strengthening Public Health Services and Systems Research and on improving the impact of health services and policy research on both policy and practice.
Dr. Sofaer’s research interests span multiple topics. For nearly 30 years, she has led or co-led studies to increase the extent to which members of the public can productively engage in their own health and health care, as well as in health policy decision-making. Her research often focuses on designing and testing interventions. She created and experimentally tested a new method to provide comparative information on the financial consequences of alternative health care coverage options to people with Medicare in the 1980’s. She has developed and evaluated multiple comparative cost and quality reports, gathered patient input on a wide range of proposed quality measures, and helped design and test specific engagement strategies for hospital patients and their families. She has developed and assessed the use of a public deliberation method to get input from the public on cost-effectiveness research and participated in a major randomized trial at AIR of how effective four such deliberative methods are in getting meaningful public input on ethical and social value issues related to comparative effectiveness research. Her work has also involved studies of multi-stakeholder community health coalitions and multiple program evaluations, of both individual programs and clusters of programs. Her most significant current evaluation uses a randomized controlled trial to assess an initiative by the City of New York to improve health care access for immigrants who are ineligible for public health insurance. Also at AIR, she has been Deputy Director of a project to develop and implement an experience survey for people enrolled in Qualified Health Plans through the federal and state marketplaces.
Dr. Sofaer helped to organize an AHRQ-sponsored meeting on qualitative research methods in 1998 which resulted in a special issue of Health Services Research that she co-edited. She provides training to AcademyHealth members, Commonwealth Fund Harkness Fellows and other researchers on the rigorous use of these methods, and serves as a methods consultant to many studies. She is on the Editorial Boards of Health Services Research and Medical Care Research and Review. She served on the AHRQ Health Systems Research study section for four years and has been a member of half a dozen study committees for the Institute of Medicine, including the three and a half year study of the Consequences of Uninsurance; she led the final sub-committee of this effort, which generated and published a volume describing principles and recommendations for achieving universal coverage.
Dr. Sofaer received her master’s and doctoral degrees in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley and completed her bachelor’s degree in political science at Barnard College.
Statement of Interest
Health services and policy research is at a crossroads as we face the challenges of a set of policymakers whose respect for evidence is limited, while being asked by another set of policymakers, as happened at the most recent National Health Policy Conference, to produce and publicize studies that provide evidence-based direction toward an efficient, effective and patient-centered health care system that actually supports the health of the public. Our field will wither if we do not find ways to increase, not just maintain, the resources needed to produce such evidence and disseminate it strategically to key stakeholders. This includes financial resources, of course, but it is also critical that we support (1) the use of rigorous research methods and designs of all kinds and (2) a truly diverse workforce across multiple disciplines who can design and implement studies that are both rigorous and relevant, and that respond to the critical unanswered questions in our field.
More broadly, how can we make a difference on decades old problems that keep the performance of the US health system far less robust than it should and can be? For example, how can we stop spending so much on health care that we underfund sectors that probably have much more impact on health and health disparities, such as education, housing, economic development and transportation? How can we support patients and their families as strong partners in their own health care, in the health of their communities, in the design and conduct of research, and most important in policy decision-making? AcademyHealth can and should be, and often is, a context in which these challenges are raised and explored, a context in which members and potential members are welcomed and engaged, finding both like-minded colleagues and people with whom they can have a good debate. As a Board member, I will seek to support the organization as the critical professional resource it is, while encouraging it to make the field much better understood and appreciated by both “insiders” and even average people.