Joint Research Day Advances Collaboration with the Advocate Aurora Research Institute

A standing man speaks to people seated around tables. A presentation displays on a screen behind him.
Dr. Majid Afshar presented on the development and implementation of Learning Health Systems at UW-Madison and the UW Health System.

The Institute for Clinical and Translational Research (ICTR) hosted a Joint Research Day on September 22, 2023, to foster collaboration between scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Advocate Aurora Research Institute. The event focused on subjects of research excellence and areas for continued growth at both institutions. The presentations covered six topics: maternal, child, and family health; cardiovascular and diabetes research; health equity; environmental health; aging and care transition; and health system science.

The event is the second in an ongoing series of Joint Research Days in collaboration with biomedical research institutes across several Wisconsin health care systems. ICTR hosted the inaugural event with the Marshfield Clinic Research Institute on May 19, 2023. The events provide time for researchers to meet colleagues and discuss shared research interests across institutions. Program materials also provide information on ICTR services and funding for collaborative research at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

The meeting, held at Signe Skott Cooper Hall on the UW-Madison campus, was organized by Dr. Nasia Safdar, associate dean for clinical trials at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health, and Dr. Michael Fendrich, director of scientific research at Advocate Aurora.

In his opening remarks, Fendrich noted that Advocate Aurora focuses on patient-care-centered research and said, “One of our great strengths is that we have a very robust patient database to draw upon.”

Maternal, Child, and Family Health

Veronica Fitzpatrick, DrPH, a public health researcher at Advocate Aurora, presented on her investigation of differences in perinatal care experiences for women based on race and level of insurance coverage. She is currently conducting research on the introduction of doulas in Advocate Aurora’s clinics on Chicago’s south side. She highlighted that she has a particular interest in clinical implementation of research.

Katie Gillespie, DNP, a clinical assistant professor in the UW-Madison School of Nursing, presented the initial findings of her research on Prenatal Care Coordination (PNCC), which is a Wisconsin Medicaid and BadgerCare Plus benefit. She noted that while the benefit provides support and services for pregnant and postpartum mothers through schools and faith groups, it is currently underutilized in clinical networks.

Cardiovascular and Diabetes Research

Rasha Khatib, PhD, a research scientist focused on cardiovascular disease prevention at Advocate Aurora, presented her research on at-home, self-measured blood pressure monitoring among patients. She noted that while at-home blood pressure monitors have potential to help patients, adoption is currently very low. She has found that patients do not always know what to do with data after they take at-home health care readings.

Christie Bartels, MD, chief of the rheumatology division in the UW-Madison Department of Medicine, discussed her ongoing investigation of systems-level interventions to reduce disparities among patients with lupus. She noted that lupus is one of the leading causes of premature death for Black and Hispanic women. She is currently focusing on disparities in prescription of hydroxychloroquine, which is used to treat kidney flares in lupus cases.

Health Equity

Jana Hirschtick, PhD, a social epidemiologist specializing in design and analysis of population health surveys at Advocate Aurora, presented her work to identify disparities based on population-health surveys and community-driven work. Her ongoing work surveys Black adults’ health behaviors with relation to COVID-19. She is also trying to understand continuing post-illness symptoms, commonly called Long COVID, which she suspects may be multiple, distinct syndromes.

Gina Green-Harris, MBA, co-lead of ICTR’s Just Research program, spoke about her study on the structures and processes of community advisory boards in research. She advocates for standardized methods to evaluate community advisory boards and undertakes research to understand the perspectives and motivations of advisory board members.

Environmental Health

Marybeth Ingle, PhD, a research science associate at Advocate Aurora, presented her work on health disparities, cancer epidemiology, and chronic health. She currently focuses on research on methods for maximizing the uses and effectiveness of electronic health records with a focus on the frequency with which records are updated.

Aging and Care Transition

Dorothy Farrar-Edwards, PhD, Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor of kinesiology and medicine at UW-Madison, presented on her recent work on functional performance, caregiver burden, and treatment outcomes in populations ranging from those experiencing normal aging to patients affected by neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and stroke. She began collecting hospital data on a novel performance measure relating to “brain fog” in September 2023.

Michelle Simpson, PhD, a senior research scientist at Advocate Aurora, discussed her work on dementia and the HELP program, which aims to decrease delirium among hospital patients. She is currently scaling her study to determine the program’s effect in home care settings. She is also studying the rate of follow up for older adults following emergency room referrals.

Health System Science

Majid Afshar, MD, associate professor of pulmonary and critical care in the UW-Madison Department of Medicine, presented on ICTR’s endeavors to advance Learning Health System tools and concepts at UW-Madison and the UW Health System. He is currently working to bring the Learning Health System to inpatient settings.

Eva Chang, PhD, a research scientist associate at Advocate Aurora, discussed her work on telemedicine use among disadvantaged and vulnerable populations. She is interested in how visit mode affects health outcomes and believes that there is a need to better understand the quality of telemedicine relative to in-person visits.