Projects Focus on Learning Health System Acceleration at Penn Medicine

May 30, 2024
By combining formal didactic training, tailored mentorship, and support from research and operations professionals, Penn PORTAL trains the next generation of health system operations leaders and independently funded LHS investigators

In January 2024 the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) announced a joint effort to advance learning health system (LHS) scientist training with an investment of up to $80 million over five years to fund 16 centers nationwide. At one of those centers, Penn Medicine in Philadelphia has named the inaugural cycle of clinician leaders and scientist investigators in its effort to accelerate progress toward an integrated LHS at Penn and in the wider Philadelphia region.

The Learning Health System Embedded Scientist Training and Research (LHS E-StaR) Centers funded through the AHRQ-PCORI initiative are recruiting scientists who are representative of the diverse backgrounds and cultures of the communities they serve. The initiative is providing training and professional development for scientists in various care settings, engaging communities and other health system stakeholders in novel ways, and promoting research to improve health outcomes at the individual and population levels while enhancing health system operations.

The Penn PORTAL (Patient-Oriented Research and Training to Accelerate Learning) program is supported by multiple centers at Penn including the Palliative and Advanced Illness Research (PAIR) Center, Penn Medicine Nudge Unit, and Center for Healthcare Improvement & Patient Safety.


By combining formal didactic training, tailored mentorship, and support from research and operations professionals, PORTAL trains the next generation of health system operations leaders and independently funded LHS investigators.

“As electronic health records have become ubiquitous, and machine learning and other statistical methods have been developed to harness their potential, we now have enormous opportunity to use these data to rapidly find new ways to deliver care that fairly promotes the goals of all patients,” said Scott D. Halpern, M.D., Ph.D., the John M. Eisenberg Professor of Medicine, Epidemiology, and Medical Ethics and Health Policy and founding director of the Palliative and Advanced Illness Research Center (PAIR) in a statement. “This requires a different approach and scale than traditional clinical research, so we need to both expand training for this type of work and ensure that it’s integrated with clinical operations teams from the outset in order to realize this full potential.”

Here are the projects the initial cohort at Penn is working on: 

Renee Betancourt, M.D., is the Vice Chair for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and an Associate Professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health; she is also the Faculty Director of the Health Equity Curriculum at Perelman School of Medicine. With an overarching goal of working to eliminate health inequity, Betancourt’s LHS quality improvement project will focus on patients with chronic kidney disease at Penn Family Care and is titled, “Streamlining evidence-based chronic kidney disease primary care to improve care and health equity.”

Denise Xu, M.D., is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, the Assistant Program Director for the Neurology Residency, and Director for the Neurology Sub-Internship at the Perelman School of Medicine. Dr. Xu is interested in delirium prevention and in improving sleep quality for patients admitted to a Penn Medicine hospital. Her LHS quality improvement project is titled, “Restoring Sleep for Inpatients.”

Eric Bressman, M.D., M.S.H.P.,is an Assistant Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hospital Medicine and is strongly interested in promoting safe transitions of care after hospital discharge. Bressman’s LHS research project, titled “Mobility-informed dynamic risk monitoring to guide transitional care support for older adults,” will focus on the building blocks for improving transitioning older adults from the hospital to their home.

Kyra O’Brien, M.D., is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and an MSHP candidate; her research interests are in improving and transforming care delivery for people with dementia. Starting with Penn Medicine primary care, O’Brien’s LHS research project is designed to develop an effective and equitable pathway for early detection of cognitive impairment. Her project is titled, “Evaluating strategies to improve cognitive assessments in primary care.”

Here are the 16 centers awarded grants in the program: 


• PEDSnet Scholars: A National LHS Embedded Scientist Training and Research Program

• Michigan Embedded LHS Scientist Training and Research (MEL-STaR) Center

• Boston Health Equity and Community-Aligned LHS (Boston-HEALHS)

• Patient-Oriented Research and Training to Accelerate Learning (Penn PORTAL)

• Washington Learning Health System Embedded Scientist Training and Research Center (WALHS-E-STAR Center)

• Massachusetts Institute for Equity-Focused Learning Health System Science (MIELHSS)

• Southwest Safety Net Embedded Scientist Training and Research (SSNE-STaR) Center

• Realizing Accelerated Progress, Investigation, Implementation, and Dissemination in Learning Health System (RAPID-LHS) Center at Vanderbilt University Medical Center

• Columbia-Cornell-Einstein EQUIP+ Center for Learning Health System Science

• Dartmouth Learning Health System Embedded Scientist Training and Research (E-STaR) Center
• UCSF Learning Health System Embedded Scientist Training and Research Center

• Promoting Embedded Research in a Learning Health System

• Learning Health System Embedded Scientist Training and Research (LHS-E-STaR) of the North (LEaRN) at the University of Minnesota

• Learning Health System Training to Improve Disability and Chronic Condition Care (LeaHD) at Brown University

• University of California San Diego Center for Learning Health System Science

• Learning Health System Scientist Training and Research in New Jersey (LHS STAR NJ)

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