The Origins of HCP

In 1988, the Harvard Medical School department of health care policy was founded on the beliefs that collaboration between physicians and social scientists would be mutually beneficial, and that physicians played an important role in health care policy at all points of their careers. They had recently hired economist Joseph P. Newhouse, PhD, to join the university as the leader of the Division of Health Policy Research and Education.

Plans for a new “quadrangle-based” department were put into action by Barbara J. McNeil, MD, PhD. McNeil would later go on to serve as the head of the department, a position she holds to this day.

There were no obvious road maps to follow as this department was the first of its kind. Most health policy groups were located in schools of public health with faculty drawn from social sciences, or in research groups with a primary mission that was not academic. Harvard sought to create a department with a multidisciplinary research portfolio and diverse faculty. This department would allow physicians and social scientist to collaborate on teaching and research, be housed in the same physical space, and have the same opportunities for academic advancement. Since the department’s inception, 15 other medical schools have established academic departments, centers, or divisions devoted to research and education in health care policy.

Three founding members of the department were already close friends and collaborators. Paul D. Cleary, Arnold M. Epstein, and Barbara J McNeil welcomed Joseph P Newhouse to the group upon his arrival in Boston. The team recruited statistician Constantine Gatsonis from Carnegie Mellon. Early on, the need for another social scientist was identified, and Edward Guadagnoli joined the group from Brown University.

Special guests of the department’s inaugural celebration included William Roper, Deputy Assistant for Domestic Policy and Director of White House Office of Policy Department, and Joseph Califano, Senior Partner of Dewey Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer, and Wood. The symposium, titled “Health Care in the 90s: The Impending Revolution” can be viewed here.

The combined expertise of this group allowed the department to study policy areas related to health care costs, patient outcomes, clinical effectiveness, and technology assessment. Together with colleagues from Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the department organized one of the first Patient Outcome Research Teams (PORTs) on acute myocardial infarction. This grant provided the model of collaborative research that continues to this day.