The focus of Dr. Birkmeyer's research is collaborative quality improvement, comparative effectiveness research, and health services research. In her role as a principal research scientist at the Dartmouth Institute, Birkmeyer participates in studies to evaluate treatments and improve the quality of care for a variety of conditions.
Early in her career, her work was devoted to improving the quality of surgical treatment by filling holes in its underlying evidence base. Specifically, in designing and conducting clinical trials to provide answers to critical unanswered questions in surgery. Another strand of her work has focused on policy relevant-health services research. These studies, frequently based on analyses of large administrative databases, have identified structural characteristics of care that underlie variations and disparities in clinical outcomes and relationships between the costs and quality of care. Using meta-analysis, decision analysis, and mixed qualitative and quantitative methods to improve clinical and patient decision-making has also been a focus of her research.
During her 10 years at the University of Michigan, Birkmeyer served as the founding director of the Michigan Bariatric Surgery Collaborative (MBSC). In her role as the MBSC director, she engaged surgeons and morbid obesity patients as active participants in research leading to changes in clinical care, improved outcomes, and changes in related national insurance coverage and policy. Her work showing that the technical skills of bariatric surgeons varied widely and that higher skill ratings were associated with lower complication rates was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and resulted in an NIH-funded study of a peer-coaching intervention to improve surgeon’s proficiency.
She received a BA from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 1990, completed an MS in epidemiology and fellowship in the epidemiology of cardiovascular disease at Harvard in 1992, and was the first graduate of the PhD program at Dartmouth's Center for the Evaluative Clinical Sciences in 1997.