Faculty Profile

Michele Heisler

Michele Heisler, MD, MPA

  • Professor, Internal Medicine
  • Professor, Health Behavior and Health Education
  • Research Scientist, Center for Clinical Management Research
  • Staff Physician

Dr. Heisler has developed and helped scale up programs that improve health by promoting respect for human rights and mobilizing peer, family, and community support to address social and behavioral determinants of health. Her pathbreaking pragmatic clinical trials and implementation studies, supported with >$45 million in federal grants, have demonstrated the effectiveness of diverse peer support models--training and leveraging support from fellow patients, community members, family--to achieve sustained improvements in health and social wellbeing. She is working with health systems and plans in the US and overseas to implement these models. She has also gained international recognition for her research documenting health consequences of human rights violations, attacks on healthcare and public health workers, development of medical-legal partnerships to document, prosecute, and prevent torture, violence, and discrimination against marginalized groups. Findings have informed recent legislation to prevent police violence against medics and protesters, reparations for individual victims and communities, United Nations (UN) protocols, resolutions, and commissions of inquiry, and successful prosecutions of perpetrators. She is leveraging her role as Medical Director of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) to strengthen rigorous research, medico-legal documentation, and cross-sectoral partnerships to promote health and human rights. She has authored or co-authored >300 peer-reviewed articles.

  • MD, Harvard Medical School, 1997
  • MPA, Princeton University, 1987
  • BA, Amherst College, 1983

Research Interests:
Safety net health system interventions to improve behavioral and social determinants of health; Peer support; Health equity; Health and Human rights.

Research Projects:
Heisler's research group focuses on designing, implementing and evaluating novel approaches to extend outreach and ongoing support for adult patients receiving care in safety net health systems who are at-risk of or have chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes. These approaches include a range of peer support models--peer coach models in which patients are paired with another patient who has made healthy lifestyle changes and was trained in autonomy-supportive action planning; reciprocal peer support models in which both patients give and receive support to each other; community health worker (CHW) models; e-health approaches; and combinations of these. Current projects include federally funded pragmatic clinical trials evaluating peer support models for diabetes prevention in safety net health systems in Ypsilanti and Detroit. She has also helped design and evaluate community health worker programs in Sao Paulo, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

In her position as medical director of Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), she is leading a range of research projects examining how state actions against marginalized populations constitute torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment (TCIDT) and mobilizing Istanbul Protocol-trained clinicians to document these in medico-legal affidavits.

Heisler M, Vijan S, Makki F, Piette JD (2010) Diabetes control with reciprocal peer support versus nurse care management: a randomized trial. Ann Intern Med 153(8): 507-515.

Heisler M, Choi H, Palmisano G, Mase R, Richardson C, Fagerlin A, Montori VM, Spencer MS, An LC (2014) Comparison of community health worker-led diabetes medication decision-making support for low-income Latino and African American adults with diabetes using e-Health tools versus print materials: a randomized controlled trial. Ann Intern Med 161(10 0): S13-S22.

Spencer MS, Kieffer EC, Sinco B, Piatt G, Palmisano G, Tang T, Funnell M, Heisler M (2018) Outcomes at 18 months from a community health worker and peer leader diabetes self-management program for Latino adults. Diabetes Care 41(7):1414-1422.

Heisler M, Hampton K, McKay D (2020) Dangerous use of crowd-control weapons against medics and protesters in Portland, OR. The Lancet 396(10259):e59-e60 .

Heisler M, Burgess J, Cass J, Chardos JF, et al (2021) Evaluating the effectiveness of diabetes shared medical appointments (SMAs) as implemented in five Veterans Affairs health systems: a multi-site, cluster randomized pragmatic trial. JGIM 36(6):1648-1655.

Heisler M, Lapidos A, Kieffer E, Henderson J, Guzman R, Cunmulaj J, Wolfe J, Meyer T, Ayanian JZ. Impact on health care utilization and costs of a Medicaid community health worker program in Detroit, 2018-2020: a randomized program evaluation AJPH 2022; 112: 766-775.

Email: mheisler@umich.edu 
Twitter: @MicheleHeisler