Laura Hatfield, who began her appointment at HCP as an assistant professor in 2011, was promoted to associate professor of health care policy (biostatistics) in April 2017. Her work focuses on tradeoffs and decision-making in health care.
“Many health decisions are quite complicated, and many of the ways we make those decisions are ad hoc and exist only in our heads. It is rare that a physician or a patient will be able to show mathematically how they got to a chosen treatment. Using rigorous statistical methods can both ease the cognitive burden on the decision-makers and yield better decisions.”
Hatfield has been focused on tradeoffs and outcomes since her dissertation work linking data from patient-reported outcomes and survival in cancer clinical trials. Incorporating the two processes, she says, shows how they evolve together and reflects the total “cancer process” of an individual.
Bringing statistical ideas to decision making excites her particularly as trends in precision and personalized medicine aim for individualized treatment decisions. The earliest tools for patients have been simple decision aids, like pamphlets, while sophisticated modeling have been limited to physician-driven clinical risk calculators.
Hatfield’s long-term vision for this work is a combination of the two: “Imagine an online tool that you and your doctor sit down together and fill out, and on the back end is running statistical modeling. What you’d get is a ranking of the treatment options that’s tailored to your clinical needs and your values and preferences.”
Now that she’s at HCP, Hatfield is also able to synthesize aspects of health care on a larger, policy-oriented level. “Academics are one of the gatekeepers of what are good or bad policy ideas. I love being able to do rigorous evaluations of interventions that happen in the real world. We should all be critical consumers of policy ideas—and one way to do that is to be evidence-based and analytical.”
As she moves forward in her research, she also enjoys mentoring trainees at the beginning stages of their careers. At HCP, she co-leads the Health Policy Data Science Lab with Sherri Rose. The lab serves as a supportive, welcoming environment for trainees both in and out of the department. The group meets to share research ideas and provide support to develop as scholars.
“We’re trying to manifest the best of academic culture: the flow of ideas, open collaboration, inquiry and exploration,” she says.