CHR Investigator Stephanie Fitzpatrick Lauded for Health Care Innovation

Image of Stephanie Fitzpatrick with the PBJ award

At its annual Health Care of the Future event, the Portland Business Journal honored early-career researcher Stephanie Fitzpatrick with a “Health Care Five Under Forty” award.

On Thursday, September 20, 2018, the Portland Business Journal honored CHR Investigator Stephanie Fitzpatrick, PhD, with its “Health Care Five Under Forty” award during its annual Health Care of the Future event. The award celebrates five young health care professionals in Oregon and southwest Washington who have—in their relatively early careers—made a significant impact on their organizations and on health care delivery.

“In this line of work, it usually takes a young researcher several years just to get started, let alone to come to some substantive research conclusions, and then disseminate those conclusions broadly enough to begin to affect real and lasting change,” explained Stephen Fortmann, MD, senior investigator and senior director of Science Programs at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research. Dr. Fortmann collaborates frequently with Dr. Fitzpatrick in her work.

“Stephanie has been able to accomplish so much in a relatively short period of time, making her a perfect candidate for this award,” Dr. Fortmann added.

Image of Stephanie Fitzpatrick receiving award

Stephanie Fitzpatrick, PhD (right), receiving her “Health Care Five Under Forty” award from Craig Wessel, the president and publisher of the Portland Business Journal

Developing real-world interventions to help patients

The bulk of Dr. Fitzpatrick’s innovative research centers on embedding behavioral interventions for obesity and chronic disease management in primary care practices—on the “front lines” in health intervention. Her work has the potential to have widespread, real-world implications, particularly in a country where two-thirds of the adult population is overweight or obese, and where many struggle with managing chronic diseases. Some patients and clinicians are already seeing the real-world effects of Dr. Fitzpatrick’s work.

In 2016, Dr. Fitzpatrick and her colleagues published a guide for obesity management in primary care in the American Journal of Medicine, outlining a multidisciplinary approach to maximize patients’ success with weight management. Dr. Fitzpatrick is piloting this model at Kaiser Permanente’s Rockwood Family Practice, where she oversees a behavioral weight management clinic. In this role, she is applying her research in the clinical setting, working with primary care physicians, behavioral health consultants, and patient navigators, providing evidence-based behavioral weight management treatment to patients with obesity and obesity-related conditions, including diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnea.

Dr. Fitzpatrick is also currently the principal investigator on a large-scale National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases-funded study that is evaluating the implementation of the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) among Medicare beneficiaries at Kaiser Permanente Northwest. An earlier DPP study demonstrated that participation in an intensive behavioral lifestyle intervention consisting of nutrition, physical activity, and behavioral counseling significantly reduced risk for diabetes and produced clinically significant weight loss.

Recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services decided to pay for Medicare beneficiaries’ participation in DPP—a landmark decision to cover a behavioral lifestyle intervention designed to prevent diabetes. By preventing its beneficiaries from progressing to diabetes, Medicare expects to save $1.3 billion in health care costs by 2024. Dr. Fitzpatrick’s study will help to establish how to expand the reach of a program such as DPP and how to feasibly sustain this program in a large health system like Kaiser Permanente.

Dr. Fitzpatrick (center) with CHR’s Joyce Smith-McGee (left) and Dr. Stephen Fortmann (right), at the Portland Business Journal Health Care of the Future event

Dr. Fitzpatrick has published about her work as a lead author on 14 peer-reviewed journal articles—and has been a co-author on 20 others. Examples of her published work include a study evaluating the impact of cost on the availability of fruits and vegetables in children’s homes in Birmingham, Alabama; weight management for veterans; and improving how clinicians address obesity during patient encounters.

Passion through personal experience

Since childhood, Dr. Fitzpatrick has struggled with obesity, and she has several family members with diabetes and other chronic illnesses. She aims to apply her work in order to develop strategies that will ultimately help people like herself and her family.

“This personal experience is what got me into this work and it’s what drives me,” she explained. “I was able to make small changes in my behavior that I am able to sustain long-term, and my work and the work of others proves that this is the key to losing weight and managing chronic disease. Over time, a series of small changes can add up—and that proven experience is what I bring to my work with patients.”

To read the Portland Business Journal’s coverage of Dr. Fitzpatrick’s work, visit