Barron H. Lerner M.D., Ph.D.

Department of Medicine
New York University
Email: Discipline: Medicine, History Expertise: Organization of Care, Public and Population Health, Bioethics, Disease Advocacy, History of Medicine, Interest Groups

Investigator Award
Famous Patients: "N of 1" Cases and Health Policy Debates
Award Year: 2003 Health policy debates surface at specific moments for a host of reasons. For example, they may be triggered by technological advances, greater attention to the costs of medical care, or by special interest groups pursuing an agenda. More often, however, a specific medical case or scandal pushes a policy issue into the headlines. Barron H. Lerner, M.D., Ph.D. scrutinizes influential cases in his new project, Famous Patients: N of 1 Cases and Health Policy Debates. Focusing on four policy areas - medical error, technology, death and dying, and patient activism, Dr. Lerner examines in detail 16 seminal medical cases and how they have advanced or impeded health policymaking. The project analyzes the factors that influenced the timing of specific health policy debates, the role the media has played in framing noteworthy medical cases, and the ways these cases have shaped policymaking, including the funding of controversial new treatments.


Barron H. Lerner is the Angelica Berrie-Gold Foundation Associate Professor of Medicine and Public Health at the Columbia University College of Physicians & Surgeons. Dr. Lerner received his M.D. from Columbia in 1986 and his Ph.D. in history from the University of Washington in 1996. His latest book, When Illness Goes Public: Celebrity Patients and How We Look at Medicine, was published October 2006 by the Johns Hopkins University Press. Significant funding for this project came from the RWJF Investigators in Health Policy Research program as well as the Greenwall Foundation and the National Library of Medicine. Dr. Lerner's previous book, The Breast Cancer Wars: Hope, Fear and the Pursuit of a Cure in Twentieth-Century America, published by Oxford University Press, won the William H. Welch Medal of the American Association for the History of Medicine and the Washington Irving Book Award and was named one of the 26 most notable books of 2001 by the American Library Association. Dr. Lerner has published extensively in scholarly journals, such as NEJM, the Lancet and the Annals of Internal Medicine, and writes regularly for The New York Times, The Washington Post and other newspapers. He has also appeared on National Public Radio programs, including "Fresh Air," "Science Friday" and "All Things Considered." In addition to his research, Dr. Lerner teaches bioethics at Columbia, where he is on the faculty of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health and the Center for the Study of Society and Medicine. Dr. Lerner is also an internist, seeing patients in general medicine clinic.