Amber Barnato Named Director of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice

Amber Barnato, MD, MPH, MS

Physician-researcher Amber Barnato, MD, MPH, MS, the Susan J. and Richard M. Levy Distinguished Professor in Health Care Delivery, has been named the new director of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice (TDI). The appointment was announced today by Duane Compton, PhD, dean of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, and Joanne M. Conroy MD, CEO and President of Dartmouth-Hitchcock and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health. Barnato will begin her new role on July 1, 2021.

Barnato is a physician dually trained in general preventive medicine and public health and hospice and palliative medicine who is acclaimed for her research on medical decision-making for patients with serious illnesses. Since joining the Dartmouth community in 2017, she has served as a professor of The Dartmouth Institute and of medicine at Geisel, and as the inaugural Susan J. and Richard M. Levy 1960 Distinguished Professor in Health Care Delivery at Dartmouth College.

“I am very pleased that Dr. Barnato has agreed to serve as the new Director of The Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice,” says Dean Compton. “The goals of the institute to improve population health and reduce disparities could not have been brought into sharper focus during the pandemic over the past year. This is an important juncture for our health system, and I am excited that Dr. Barnato will be leading our academic efforts to improve our systems of care.”

In her new role, Barnato will lead a diverse group of scholars, researchers, clinicians, students, and administrators as they strive to advance TDI’s mission of working in partnership with individuals and organizations locally, around the country, and throughout the world, to improve population health, reduce disparities, and create high-performing, sustainable health systems.

“It’s an incredible privilege and honor to have been chosen for this key leadership position at Dartmouth,” says Barnato, whose priorities will include growing and diversifying TDI’s faculty and developing policy and practice solutions to address systemic health inequality among marginalized populations. “My interest in a career in health services research, and in particular studying variations, was sparked by the Dartmouth Atlas and the research of Jack Wennberg. So, it is profoundly meaningful to me that I will be the new director of TDI.”

As Barnato begins her new role, her position will have closer ties to the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH) system than in the past—she will report dually to Dean Compton at Geisel and Joanne Conroy, MD, chief executive officer at D-HH—providing opportunities for increased collaboration, particularly in areas where TDI research can be tested using D-HH as a learning laboratory.

"Many of the key advancements in care delivery at Dartmouth-Hitchcock have been based on the important work coming out of TDI,” notes Conroy. "The work of The Dartmouth Atlas has, over the past 20 years, been a touchstone for our efforts to provide high-quality, high-value care, and I look forward to Amber’s leadership as we begin this next phase of collaboration between D-HH and TDI."

Barnato has devoted her career to studying variation in end-of-life ICU and life-sustaining treatment use. She uses methods such as ethnography and simulation to isolate mechanisms that underlie differences in treatment decisions from one doctor to another for otherwise similar patients. This work has led to an explanatory model regarding the ways that organizational norms affect providers’ implicit – or unconscious – cognition, their communication patterns with patients, and subsequent patient and family expectations. She is currently testing organization and physician-level interventions that can interrupt these cycles and refocus medical care to individual patients’ own goals and values.

After graduating with her MD from Harvard Medical School, Barnato earned an MPH in health policy and administration from the University of California at Berkeley and an MS in health services research from Stanford University. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of California at Berkeley, majoring in physiology.

In addition to her duties as TDI director, Barnato will continue to see patients through the Palliative Care service at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, and will still actively teach and do research, placing greater emphasis on recruiting, program building across Dartmouth, and mentoring of new junior faculty.

“I’m really excited about the opportunity to make a significant impact on health and healthcare locally and globally,” says Barnato. “I am grateful to Anna Tosteson (ScD) for her distributed leadership style during her two-and-a-half years as interim director, which will be a model for my own.”

During her tenure, Tosteson, a decision scientist and health services researcher, led the successful recruitment of several new faculty to TDI and development of key initiatives such as the Promise Partnership. She will continue her work as a professor of TDI, of medicine, and of community and family medicine at Geisel, and also as associate director for population sciences at Norris Cotton Cancer Center.

Founded in 1797, the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth strives to improve the lives of the communities it serves through excellence in learning, discovery, and healing. The Geisel School of Medicine is renowned for its leadership in medical education, healthcare policy and delivery science, biomedical research, global health, and in creating innovations that improve lives worldwide. As one of America’s leading medical schools, Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine is committed to training new generations of diverse leaders who will help solve our most vexing challenges in healthcare.

Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health (D-HH), New Hampshire’s only academic health system and the state’s largest private employer, serves a population of 1.9 million across northern New England. D-H provides access to more than 2,000 providers in almost every area of medicine, delivering care at its flagship hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH. DHMC was named again in 2020 as the #1 hospital in New Hampshire by U.S. News & World Report, and recognized for high performance in 9 clinical specialties and procedures. Dartmouth-Hitchcock also includes the Norris Cotton Cancer Center, one of only 51 NCI-designated Comprehensive Cancer Centers in the nation; the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, the state’s only children’s hospital; affiliated member hospitals in Lebanon, Keene, and New London, NH, and Windsor, VT, and Visiting Nurse and Hospice for Vermont and New Hampshire; and 24 Dartmouth-Hitchcock clinics that provide ambulatory services across New Hampshire and Vermont. The D-H system trains nearly 400 residents and fellows annually, and performs world-class research, in partnership with the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the White River Junction VA Medical Center in White River Junction, VT.