By Eden Siskind, Student at the University of Maryland
Roberta Capp first immigrated to the United States from Brazil with her mother and sister when she was 14. She came to the United States speaking little English, and her family was poor, but ever since receiving a microscope when she was a young girl, she knew she wanted to work in medicine.
Roberta was committed to attending college and worked hard to find scholarships to fund her undergraduate and graduate studies. She was able to obtain a medical degree from Harvard and a Master of Health Science from Yale.
Her commitment to both public service and medicine is extraordinary. At the University of Colorado, she not only focuses on treating her patients but also in creating an algorithm to find errors in medical cases brought to the emergency room. By doing so, she was able to recognize patterns of problems in cases and was able to help solve them.
The Vilcek Foundation just awarded its Prize for Creative Promise in Biomedical Science to Dr. Capp. According to the Vilcek Foundation, the “prizes honor young immigrants who have demonstrated exceptional early accomplishment, and whose careers contribute to the American arts and sciences.”
The Vilcek Foundation was interested in Dr. Capp’s study of how Medicaid patients access the health care system. Dr. Capp has been testing the hypothesis that Medicaid patients seek non-urgent care in emergency rooms because of systematic barriers to their access to primary care. She conducted a trial comparing a control group of patients to those in a program providing access to “patient navigators” who assist patients obtain primary care services. Her research found that using patient navigators led to a significant reduction in emergency department use. Dr. Capp is now working with the Colorado government to implement policies based on her findings.
Capp is now working with Medicaid officials in Colorado to find ways to improve health care access and delivery for underserved communities. She is also exploring ways to reduce return visits to emergency departments attributable to medical errors. Her work has implications for making health care accessible, affordable, and patient-centered. Capp was born in São Paulo, Brazil.