Roz D. Lasker, M.D., is founding director of the Center for the Advancement of Collaborative Strategies in Health at The New York Academy of Medicine. The Center's research is focused on ways to improve medical care delivery, public health practice, health policy development, and the effectiveness of community partnerships.
People and organizations need to work together to tackle the complex problems that affect health and well-being. That is why tens of thousands of partnerships have been formed to address issues like substance abuse, health disparities, and medical care. But, far too often, the experience with partnerships generates more frustration than results. Since 1995, Dr. Lasker has studied the dynamics of collaboration, transforming our understanding of how collaboration works and what it takes to make partnerships successful.
Why is a physician in this line of work? For Dr. Lasker, there was little choice. As she puts it, "The goals that have mattered most to me in my careeraddressing the root causes of poor health and giving people a meaningful and influential role in addressing problems that affect themcan't be achieved without collaboration." As she quickly found out, however, there is no proven road map for building successful partnerships, even after decades of experience. Consequently, it is very difficult for people to translate the appealing rhetoric and principles of collaboration into practice.
Dr. Lasker established the Center to fill these gaps in knowledge. While her work originally concentrated on health-related collaborationas described in her book Medicine & Public Health: The Power of Collaborationthe Center soon expanded its focus to explore challenges related to collaborative problem solving, in general.
One of Dr. Lasker's key accomplishments has been to clarify exactly how the process of collaboration strengthens a group's ability to identify, understand, and solve complex problems. The key has been to characterize and measure "partnership synergy," the breakthroughs in thinking and action that are produced when a collaborative process successfully combines the knowledge, skills, and resources of a diverse group of participants. "Synergy," she explains, "is what makes a partnership greater than the sum of its parts."
The rigorous partnership-level research that Dr. Lasker and her colleagues are conducting has important practical applications. The web-based Partnership Self-Assessment Tool (www.partnershiptool.net) shows partnerships how well their collaborative process is working and what they can do to make it work better. Results of large scale research studies are showing how the leaders, managers, and funders of partnerships can successfully involve a diverse array of participants in collaborative problem solving. "These insights and tools can alleviate much of the current frustration with collaboration," Dr. Lasker said. "Our work suggests that many partnerships can be far more successful in their collaborative efforts by changing who is involved, how participants are involved, and the partnership's approach to leadership and management."
After finishing first in her class at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in 1976, Dr. Lasker was a resident in internal medicine at Stanford University Hospital, California; Presbyterian University Hospital, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Washington University Medical Center, St. Louis, Missouri. She trained in endocrinology at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. From 1983 to 1985 she was assistant professor of medicine at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, where she was named the Teacher of the Year in 1985.
"Wanting to realize my patient-centered approach to care," she comments, " I practiced endocrinology in Ithaca, New York, but ran into difficulties when my reimbursements were insufficient to subsidize the care of my many uninsured and underinsured patients." To address the problem at its source, she became principal policy analyst for the federal Physician Payment Review Commission from 1987 to 1993, engaging practicing physicians in the development of Medicare policies. She was a member of the Clinton administration's health care reform task force in 1993, and from 1993 to 1995 she served as deputy assistant secretary for health policy development at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 1995 she received the John W. Gardner Award for excellence and outstanding achievement in public policy, population health, and public service.
In addition to her position at the Academy, Dr. Lasker is a clinical professor of public health at the Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University.