Health Policy Intern Finds MITRE a Hotbed of Learning

Sarah McKeown already knows she'd like to join the MITRE team once she graduates with her master's degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University this spring. That's after only four months on the job as an intern.

"The more I learn about our healthcare system, the more I realize how much there still is to learn," she says. "I'd like to continue that learning here, where there's such a collaborative culture and there are so many different perspectives represented."

Already, she's had a chance to work with people across the entirety of the healthcare spectrum: from clinicians to statisticians to policy experts. "It's been fascinating getting such different perspectives on policy issues."

McKeown's earlier internships had been in Congressional settings. "I worked in personal and committee offices on both the House and Senate sides. In those internships there was a lot of focus on the legislative process.

"Here at MITRE, I'm learning more about the complex process of translating legislation into agency rules. I'm getting a better sense of how agencies really work."

McKeown's internship—a co-op, which involves alternating periods of employment and study—has offered her particular insight into the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), which sponsors the CMS Alliance to Modernize Healthcare (Health FFRDC) on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services.

"My supervisor asked what I was interested in and gave me an opportunity to learn about cost analysis."

McKeown is thrilled to be on the financial side of things. "I've been working on a certificate in health finance and management this year, so it's very exciting to put those skills to work right now. I didn't expect that to happen until much later in my career."

Reducing Barriers to Use of AI in Electronic Health Records

McKeown is using her finance skills on another project as well. "I'm now working on an internally funded project to develop policy levers the federal government could use to incorporate artificial intelligence [AI] across the health delivery system."

AI has the potential to greatly enhance the way healthcare is delivered, benefiting patients, clinicians, and healthcare facilities. For example, voice recognition technology could enable physicians to capture their notes on the patient more quickly, accurately, and in more detail. Or AI programming could help to identify—and flag—proposed prescriptions that might interact adversely with other medication the patient is taking.

But cost could present a barrier to AI adoption. "One of the things we're doing is looking at potential ways to make it a cost-neutral process," McKeown explains. "One example includes incorporating AI into the electronic health record, which could reduce the number of negative patient outcomes and their associated costs. Those savings could help hospitals meet their bottom line when adopting this new technology."

One unexpected benefit to working at MITRE, McKeown says, was the boost it gave to her networking skills. "Whenever I've reached out for information or advice, people have always been willing to meet with me. I feel completely confident about asking for help, because colleagues with decades of experience have been so supportive and so generous with their time." 

Her advice to other students thinking about an internship with MITRE?

"I'd say go for it! There's a lot of opportunity to do what you're really interested in. You get to develop substantive skills and feel like you're contributing to something important every day. From day one, you're part of the team."

by Marlis McCollum

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