Q&A with Professor Sharona Hoffman

Professor Sharona Hoffman

Professor Sharona Hoffman, Co-Director of the Law-Medicine Center,  Edgar A. Hahn Professor of Law, and Professor of Bioethics, has written more than sixty articles and book chapters on health law and civil rights issues in her career.  She is also the author of two books:  Aging with A Plan:  How a Little Thought Today Can Vastly Improve Your Tomorrow (Praeger 2015) and Electronic Health Records and Medical Big Data:  Law and Policy (Cambridge University Press 2016). 

In the last year alone, Hoffman has published three major articles on diverse topics.  These include “Healing the Healers:  Legal Remedies for Physician Burnout” in the Yale Journal of Health Policy, Law and Ethics, “What Genetic Testing Teaches about Predictive Health Analytics Regulation” in the North Carolina Law Review, and “Specialty Drugs and the Health Care Cost Crisis” in the Wake Forest Law Review (with Isaac D. Buck).

Hoffman spent two sabbatical semesters as a guest researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She was a member of the Board of Scientific Counselors for the CDC Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response Medicine in 2008-12 and served on the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Research Priorities in Emergency Preparedness and Response for the Public Health System in 2007.  She has won many awards for her teaching and scholarship and was elected to membership in the American Law Institute in 2017.  Another career highlight was being invited to participate in the Precision Medicine Initiative Summit at the White House in 2016.

How did you choose the topics you wrote about this year, or in general? Why did you pick these areas?

I got interested in health information technology about a dozen years ago thanks to my husband, Andy Podgurski, who is a computer science professor at CWRU.  We wrote a series of articles together about the legal and ethical implications of electronic health records and big data.  Focusing on artificial intelligence is a natural extension of this work, and I am excited to continue exploring this area.

I also write about matters that grow out of my personal experience.  Andy has Parkinson’s disease, and several of my articles relate to the challenges we have faced during the course of his treatment.  Examples are papers about step therapy, specialty drugs, and physician burnout, which sadly, all too many clinicians experience and talk about.  I have also written about aging because I helped care for my parents before they died and because of our need to plan for our own later years in light of Andy’s disability.

Why publishing is important - what drives you to research and write?

Research and writing help me think through issues that are important to me and that fascinate me.  It is very satisfying to begin with a glimmer of an idea and to end up with a polished article that makes a strong argument and formulates recommendations that are hopefully useful.  My writing has helped me and my loved ones navigate our extremely complex medical system.  I also hope it will sometimes help others avoid some of the difficulties that we have faced.

What impact does the research and writing you do have on the students you teach? 

My scholarly work definitely enriches my teaching.  I am teaching our Health Law 1 course in the fall.  Throughout the semester I will be weaving many of the questions I’ve contemplated into class discussion and supplementing the textbook reading with some short pieces that I’ve written.  

I also teach a year-long seminar associated with our law-medicine journal, Health Matrix.  Being passionate about research and writing helps me guide the students in producing outstanding papers themselves.  Several of our students have won national writing awards and many have published their work not only in Health Matrix but also in other national law journals.  I am proud to watch the students improve their writing significantly, and I am confident that these skills will serve them well throughout their careers.

Why did you choose health law? What impact do you hope to have as a professor and scholar?

Health law is a field that impacts everyone.  It is nearly impossible to avoid receiving medical care at least occasionally in life, and there are countless legal and ethical issues associated with the U.S. healthcare system.  I feel privileged to be involved in one of the most important, relevant, and interesting fields of law.

Naturally, I strive to make valuable contributions to the legal literature.  But I also hope to impact policy and public discourse.  I have been honored to participate in many national conferences and workshops designed to formulate recommendations for policymakers.  I also enjoy speaking with the media in order to educate the public about health law matters, as I did frequently during the COVID-19 pandemic.  I hope that my scholarship ultimately makes an incremental contribution to improving health care delivery in our country and to helping people understand and manage their health care needs.