Inside the mind of researcher Jangho Yoon

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Assistant Professor Jangho Yoon joined the College of Public Health and Human Sciences in 2011 after serving as assistant professor at J.P. Hsu College of Public Health at Georgia Southern University. He previously served as an ad-hoc consultant at the World Health Organization in Geneva, Switzerland. He earned a MSPH and PhD in Health Policy and Administration at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and served as a post-doctoral scholar at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Mental Health Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.


What made you decide to get into this field of study? Is there one specific moment that inspired your career path?

“Health policy as my field of study has fascinated me since my early years in college. I was so influenced and motivated by my mentor, Professor Kyu-Sik Lee, an esteemed health policy scholar and economist who has won acclaim for his contribution to Korean National Health Insurance. His lectures and numerous conversations outside of the classroom were truly enlightening because I was incessantly exposed to a systems perspective then — how public policy on health care financing and delivery can incentivize or disincentivize various factors of society so that we may achieve greater social good.

Later during my graduate study, I was encouraged by my advisors and mentors to study the economics of mental health. As always, I was very interested in health care issues for disadvantaged individuals and families. It was fascinating to learn how various economic theories may be used to predict behaviors of people with mental illness — behaviors often stigmatized as random and irrational at least on the surface. Since then, I have applied economic principles and econometric methodology to my scientific inquiries about contentious health policy puzzles with greater interest in mental health issues.”

What does your current research entail?

“The overarching theme of my current research program is to produce empirical evidence through cutting-edge econometric analysis that can ultimately promote the functioning of the health care system, especially for vulnerable and indigent populations. My current research entails various projects in three interrelated areas including mental health policy, innovative health care models and systems, and public health economics. Among these, mental health policy is an area of research I am most passionate about.

In addition to analyzing several pressing mental health policy issues that would assist in designing a mental health system that promotes prevention and recovery of mental illness as well as overall population mental health, I am investigating, with CPHHS Associate Professor Jeff Luck, the magnitude of return on investment in public mental health in terms of its spillover effects on suicide prevention, crime and jail incarcerations.

I am also testing, with CPHHS Associate Professor Stephanie Bernell and Dr. Jean Schumer, whether state mental health capacity may interact with state gun control policies and thereby reduce suicide and the size of criminal justice outcomes.

Particularly for folks in Oregon, I think it is important to mention that I am helping to examine the impacts of the ACA Medicaid expansion and new health care delivery/financing models for Oregon Medicaid on health outcomes and health care utilization among women of reproductive age and their children.”

“I am hoping that my research overall informs policy directly, assisting in successfully transforming our current mental health system to a more recovery oriented, culturally competent, consumer-oriented and cost-effective system.”

What sparked your interest in this topic?

“I believe all the research I mentioned is very timely and important, and few people explore policy issues the way my collaborators and I do.”

How will this make a difference?

“I am hoping that my research overall informs policy directly, assisting in successfully transforming our current mental health system to a more recovery oriented, culturally competent, consumer-oriented and cost-effective system. In this ceaselessly evolving system, the chance of being recovered from mental illness and substance use is always elevated, and the system efficiency is optimized for the overall welfare of the population.

I envision that my research ultimately will contribute not only to the well-being of individuals who suffer from mental illness and substance abuse – as well as their families and caregivers – but also to the economy because they now can participate in economic activities more competently. I am also hoping that my findings on the intersection of mental health and criminal justice systems can be used to promote a more efficient allocation and prevention of wasteful use of public resources as I continue finding ways to prevent people with mental illness and substance abuse from interacting with the expensive criminal justice system.

I also hope that findings from my research will be used to improve the cost-effective delivery of integrated health services – especially for disadvantaged populations – and thereby have important implications for achieving the Triple Aim of better health, better care and lower costs.”

What would you say is the most fascinating aspect of this research?

“I find it appealing that as a social scientist, I can actually derive a theoretical model of economics — it doesn’t need to be too mathematical — which can explain how a systemic change, e.g., a change in mental health financing and/or delivery, or a change in a large-scale social process can alter behaviors of people with mental illness and other comorbid behavioral problems. I am even more fascinated when I find that delicately designed empirical models and causal econometric/statistical modeling approaches often verify our expectations motivated by theory.”

Why is research important in the field of Public Health?

“Establishing goals of a health care system, assessing current gaps and exploring ways to fill the gaps will improve the functioning of the health care system and ultimately the health and well-being of the population. This is a daunting task, and I don’t think it is possible without advancing knowledge with research.”

What’s next for you? Do you have any future research projects lined up?

“First of all, I will have to work hard to finish up what I am doing now. I will continue the policy evaluation project on the Medicaid expansion and CCO. I am also excited that my colleagues and I are just starting an evaluation project about a non-opiate pain treatment program at a pain clinic in northwest Oregon. There are other research proposals under consideration out there, so fingers crossed.”

What is the best advice you’ve ever received, and who gave it?

“‘A man without a dream is a man without a future.’ Several people told me about it, but I think my former pastor in North Carolina was the first one who told me that, about 15 years ago.”

What advice would you give to current students and recent alums?

“‘Dream big, work hard and smart, and enjoy the ride!’ I have been trying this, too.”

What are your favorite activities outside of work?

“I enjoy whatever activities I can do with my family, such as biking, hiking, reading, camping and so on.”