As a part of our "Meet Yale Internal Medicine” series, today’s feature is on Brita Roy, MD, MPH, MHS, assistant professor of medicine (general medicine), and director of population health.
As a physician who is interested in the associations between community well-being and health outcomes, Brita Roy, MD, MPH, MHS, assistant professor of medicine (general medicine) at Yale School of Medicine, and of epidemiology (chronic diseases) at Yale School of Public Health, was well-positioned for her leading role in Yale’s Covid-19 emergency response and vaccination programs.
Roy, who is the director of population health for Yale Medicine, served as one of the co-chairs of Yale’s vaccine task force, acting as a liaison between Yale School of Medicine and Yale New Haven Health (YNHHS). This partnership achieved a vaccination rate of over 85% in the 65 and older age group, eliminated disparities between Latino and white populations, and attracted attention from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of YNHHS’s nine mass vaccination sites, Roy oversaw the Yale West Campus and the Lanman Center locations. She was determined to establish a fair and equitable distribution process so that lower-income individuals who might not have reliable transportation could still access the vaccines. Roy and her partners at YNHHS ensured that three vaccination sites, including the Lanman Center site, were within walking distance of the urban areas in New Haven and Bridgeport and that some appointments were held exclusively for these individuals.
Addressing health disparities between racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic groups has always been a core goal of Roy’s work. “I don’t think it’s right that there are groups of people in this country that don’t have an equitable opportunity to achieve optimal health and well-being just because of how they look, where they were born, or how much they make. Without a clear plan to address root causes of these inequities, these problems perpetuate themselves,” she said.
Roy also co-chaired the communications work group for the COVID-19 task force, which created materials that could be distributed by community healthcare workers and community-based organizations to spread credible information to people who initially may have been hesitant about getting the vaccine.
A key component of Roy’s work during the COVID-19 response was the strength of her community connections, which she has developed through years of population health research and involvement with community-based organizations. Throughout her career at Yale, Roy has led programs to equitably improve health outcomes, which are supported by her epidemiological research that aims to identify social factors that are health-promoting at the individual, community, and organizational levels.
“Roughly 50 percent of health is determined outside of the clinical system,” said Roy. “So, my research focuses on the community level, developing partnered initiatives with other sectors and stakeholders in the area to design communities that support people to live their best lives.”
For example, Roy has studied the impact of positive psychosocial factors such as optimism and emotion regulation on cardiovascular disease risk. She is also currently planning to launch a community-wide partnership with the Urban League of Southern Connecticut to address structural racism among neighborhoods with high rates of gun violence. The project will focus on improving housing stability and increasing access to mental health counseling in order to narrow the racial wealth gap and reduce gun violence in New Haven.
Roy’s path towards population health was a winding one. She was initially interested in biomedical engineering before realizing she desired a more people-oriented career. After completing a combined MD/MPH in Health Behavior and Health Education at the University of Michigan, she went onto her internal medicine residency and chief medical resident year at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She then joined the National Clinical Scholars Program at Yale, which focuses on health services research and health policy.
Her time is currently split between clinical work, research, and administrative work as the Director of Population Health for Yale Medicine. On the administrative side, she works closely with the Yale New Haven Health System, Yale Health, and Community Medical Group to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the care provided by Yale Medicine physicians. Pre-pandemic, her team had launched an e-consultation program that enabled primary care physicians to electronically communicate with specialists. In 2020, the program expanded to nearly every specialty in adult medicine and pediatrics and has executed over 5,000 e-consults to date.
Going forward, Roy will continue working at the intersection of multiple community attributes to effect tangible change on health outcomes. “I think COVID really highlighted the magnitude and the impact of health disparities in this country based on socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity,” she said. “This has placed a national spotlight on the structural determinants of health. People now acknowledge that this exists and that it is a problem, and as such, there are finally more resources put towards trying to address these underlying structural factors.”
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