Checking In With Schaeffer-NPC Postdoctoral Fellow in Health Policy, Dr. Ilene Hollin

Ilene Hollin, PhD, is entering the second year of her NPC-USC Schaeffer Center Health Policy fellowship, a post-doctoral, two-year fellowship that seeks to bridge the gap between health research and policy analysis, particularly in the biopharmaceutical industry. In a Q&A, Dr. Hollin talks about her research and fellowship experience.

The National Pharmaceutical Council (NPC) has partnered with Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, University of Southern California to create a post-doctoral, two-year fellowship that seeks to bridge the gap between health research and policy analysis, particularly in the biopharmaceutical industry. Ilene Hollin, PhD, who recently earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Health Economics and Policy from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and previously worked as a Graduate Research Associate at the School’s Roger Lipitz Center for Integrated Health Care, is entering the second year of her NPC-USC Schaeffer Center Health Policy fellowship. NPC sat down with Dr. Hollin to learn about her research and her fellowship experience. 

Your research as the NPC-USC Schaeffer Center Health Policy Fellow has garnered a good deal of interest, including opportunities to speak at AMCP, ISPOR and AcademyHealth. Can you tell us about what you’ve been working on? 

I have primarily been working on two projects. The first is research that evaluates the ways various health care stakeholders (including patients, physicians and providers, patient organizations, and more) think about and define value. The idea is to understand where there are similarities and differences across stakeholders and across conditions so we can better understand when a more tailored, patient-centered approach can best help patients get the care they need. The second research project looks at the unintended consequences for families with children with medical complexities who are enrolled in high-deductible health plans. They face substantial financial burden due to high cost-sharing requirements and high use of health care.

Where you hope to go with this research during the second year of your fellowship? 

My first year involved substantial planning and coordinating to select feasible research projects and get them off the ground. I had to identify data sources, and in the case of one of my projects, design surveys and collect primary data for stakeholders across five conditions. There was a large upfront investment. In the second year of my fellowship, I plan to get my hands dirty with analysis, and think deeply about my work’s policy implications and how to best disseminate my findings.

What sparked your interest in these areas of research?

I am passionate about patient-centered health care, and I believe that research that demonstrates the need for patient-centered approaches to health care delivery is extremely important. I also have an interest in pediatrics, particularly those with rare or medically complex conditions. Many of our health care policies are designed to modify behavior for the majority of the population, and understandably so, but we can’t ignore the effects these can have on people who don’t fit the health care “norm,” such as high-care utilizers who may be negatively affected by policies that may not be designed with them in mind. I hope my research can help policy-makers understand how policy affects these populations, and provide information that can better assist a wider variety of patient needs. 

Has the significant media and legislative attention on health care issues impacted your interests or research in any way?

Politics aside, most would likely agree that the health care system in this country is in a state of flux. Health care delivery is complex under the best of circumstances, but operating under uncertainty is especially trying. Watching the struggles in our current environment only reaffirms my commitment to conducting good science so we have quality evidence to inform the policymaking process to help patients get the best health care possible. 

What has been the most satisfying part of your fellowship? Any surprises?

The most satisfying part of the fellowship has been my ability to work on projects that motivate me. I am lucky to have had a lot of freedom to design and work on research projects in subjects about which I am passionate. I’m not certain I would have had the same level of freedom if I had taken a non-fellowship job directly out of my PhD program. 

Ideally, what’s the next step in your career or your long-term goals? How has this fellowship figured into those goals?

The next step in my career is a long-term research position where I can conduct policy-relevant research that will impact the health care delivery system in a positive way. There are many areas for improvement, and I hope to conduct research that helps shape policy that ultimately improves people’s experience with the health care system. The fellowship granted me the opportunity to explore my research interests in-depth with my current projects, which has given me the expertise needed to ensure I am well positioned to expand my research in future jobs.

What advice do you have for post-doctoral candidates who might be interested in applying for the next NPC-USC Health Policy Fellowship?

Anyone interested in this fellowship should be interested in health care’s “big picture” and exploring how small changes impact patients and various stakeholders in the system. Health care in the U.S. is complex, and there are many competing priorities. For this fellowship, it is important to be curious about how all the pieces relate to one another. There is the opportunity to get into the weeds of study design or data analysis if that is what the Fellow wants, but it’s necessary to step back and constantly reevaluate how things fit into the larger picture. Some days you will sit at your desk knee-deep in data, but many days you will get out of your bubble, talk to influencers, attend talks or meetings, and think about things from the 50,000-foot level.