K Award Grantee Interview: Kate Bundorf, M.P.H., M.B.A., Ph.D.
The following is a transcript of grantee responses to the following questions:
- What is the primary focus of your research?
- How has funding from AHRQ helped to advance your research?
- Why did you choose to focus on this topic?
- How has your AHRQ funding helped you help other health services researchers?
Kate Bundorf: My research focuses in two areas. The first area is I do studies on health insurance choice, so I’m very interested in how people make decisions among different types of health insurance plans, what factors drive their decisions, and what are the implications of those choices. And then I’m also interested, based on how people are choosing, how can regulation and how can policy structure private health insurance markets in order to facilitate good outcomes for people who are choosing among different plans. So that’s one area of my research—health insurance choice.
The other focus of my research—and this is kind of a more recent development—has been in the organization of provider markets. So I’m very interested in how physician organizations—whether physicians practicing by themselves, organized into single specialty groups versus multispecialty groups—how physician organizations as related to hospital organizations, how all those different types of organizations affect the price and quality of care.
The funding from AHRQ has been really important and in many ways essential for advancing my research. Early in my career, I received a K Award from AHRQ, and the K Award is really just kind of important and incredibly helpful for early stage researchers. Basically, what the K Award allows you to do is focus and develop your early stage ideas, figure out which ideas are working, which ones have the most promise, and then turn them into bigger projects. So it basically gives you protected research time to kind of explore new things. That’s essential for thinking about the transition from being a trainee to being an independent investigator.
So the first area of research, health plan choice, I’ve been interested in ever since I was a graduate student, and I think I was just kind of personally interested in individual decisionmaking. I think decisionmaking in the context of health care can be both more challenging and more important than it is in other contexts. I focused on health insurance because health insurance has kind of interesting and difficult characteristics that make it harder for people to choose in that context. At the same time, policy is very important and structuring health insurance markets and influencing the settings in which people actually make choices. So for me, it was I really liked the interaction of understanding individual behavior and then at the same time thinking about how policy and regulation can be designed to facilitate individual decisionmaking in this context. I also just think health care is incredibly important. I like working in an area that is important to individuals as well as policymakers.
My second area of research, provider organization, has emerged over time, and I think in many ways it’s just become an increasingly important policy issue. So there are lots of initiatives now to try to promote different types of provider organization or to change provider organization as a way to lower the cost and improve the quality of care in the U.S., and I think it’s incredibly important to understand how those initiatives are working, where they could be improved, or the ways in which we could promote changes in private and provider organizations in order to achieve the objectives that we’re interested in. So I think that second area of research is basically driven by the policy importance of understanding the implications of all the changes that we’re currently seeing in provider markets.
AHRQ funding is helpful in helping me think about how I interact and can promote the research of other health services researchers in a number of ways. I think the first way is just through kind of the direct development of research. So when I publish research in a particular area and then other people read that and they give me feedback and vice versa, when I’m working a particular area, I’m always looking at what other people are doing. I think just that direct process of creating research and then delivering, putting it out into the world helps other people and other people’s research helps me. I think my research—I hope my research—helps other people think about their ideas and their problems. I think that’s kind of the direct effect of research. AHRQ promotes the research, and then that helps—one person’s research kind of helps everyone working in a particular area.
AHRQ funding in many ways directly helps that process, not just through giving you the opportunity to do research but also funding you to present your research at different conferences. Dissemination is a really important part of the research process. And as you go out and present your research into the world of researchers and policymakers and practitioners, I think that is helpful to other researchers as well as myself. And AHRQ directly provides funding for you to do that type of dissemination.