Karen Wernli, PhD, is a cancer epidemiologist and health services researcher whose work focuses on incorporating patient-centered outcomes to improve cancer care along the cancer care continuum from prevention to survivorship. Her works spans several types of cancer, including lung, breast, and colorectal, and studying the impact of cancer in special populations, like in adolescent and young adults (AYA). Her research strives to answer critical questions at the confluence of patients’ needs and clinical priorities. Overall, her research has resulted in > $15.5 million in external research funding, >115 peer-reviewed publications, and > 70 presentations at national conferences, symposia, and other public venues.
Dr. Wernli is a leader in multilevel intervention studies to improve lung cancer screening. She is currently conducting a pragmatic clinical trial funded by the National Cancer Institute to test two multilevel interventions to improve adherence to annual lung cancer screening at Kaiser Permanente Washington (R01CA262015). Study interventions were developed using a mixed-methods approach, including patient and stakeholder engagement and human-centered design methods, to determine gaps for interventions, relevant features of interventions, and design concepts. Further, Dr. Wernli is also leading a pilot grant from Alliance in Clinical Trials in Oncology to develop interventions to improve timely follow-up after a positive lung cancer screening scan. The purpose of the pilot grant is to develop a larger project within the NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP).
Dr. Wernli is a leader in the use of breast imaging in women with prior breast cancer including in the use of breast magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Dr. Wernli recently completed a Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) project that compared to mammography for women already treated for breast cancer. Called Surveillance Imaging Modalities for Breast Cancer Assessment (SIMBA), the study used data from the Breast Cancer Surveillance Consortium (BCSC) and engaged patients and stakeholders to determine the best information for patient and physician decision-making. Dr. Wernli’s team translated that information into a new decision aid for breast cancer survivors. PCORI has recognized this work nationally and pointed to SIMBA as a model for effective patient engagement.
Dr. Wernli’s other breast cancer projects include a National Cancer Institute (NCI)-funded study to examine trends and outcomes related to the mandatory notification of breast density that has been enacted in many states with Dr. Natasha Stout from Harvard University. She led research to determine temporal trends in breast MRI by indication for the scans. The analysis relied on national claims-based data across all 50 states.
Dr. Wernli is leading patient-centered research in AYA populations. She is currently a Project Co-Lead with KP Southern California researcher Dr. Erin Hahn and Veteran’s Affairs researcher Dr. Neetu Chawla on a NCI-funded program project to evaluate health service utilization in early survivorship for AYA populations. The research is intended to identify multilevel gaps in healthcare utilization for forthcoming interventions. Previously, Dr. Wernli launched the Clare Project with KPWHRI researchers, including Dr. Marlaine Figueroa Gray, to understand patient, caregiver, and provider perspectives regarding medical decision making in patients with advanced cancer. Using novel methods, all perspectives were garnered through social media recruitment. With NCI-funding, she has evaluated temporal trends and regional variation in end-of-life care in AYA cancer populations using national claims-based data.
Finally, Dr. Wernli is developing a research within clinical research studies. She is currently the Cancer Care Delivery Research lead at Kaiser Permanente Washington. She is currently Principal Investigator of KPWA of a multisite study of flu and COVID vaccine effectiveness funded by the Centers for Disease Control.
Dr. Wernli is a member of American Society for Preventive Oncology, Society for Epidemiologic Research, American Society for Clinical Oncology, and American Association for Cancer Research. She is a standing reviewer for American Cancer Society, and routinely reviews grants for the National Institute of Health. She is also an affiliate associate professor of population and epidemiology at the University of Washington.