Lawton teaches courses on health care strategy, strategic change, organization and management, managed care, and integrated delivery systems. He sits on the Governing Board of the Institute of Medicine (Health Services section) and on the editorial board of Health Services Research. He is a past member of the Grant Review Study Section for the Agency for Health Care Policy & Research and is a Life Fellow of Clare Hall at the University of Cambridge.

He has analyzed physician-organization integration during the past 20 years. In recognition of this research, the Hospital Research and Educational Trust named Dr. Burns the Edwin L. Crosby Memorial Fellow in 1992. In addition to this research, Dr. Burns has conducted extensive analyses of the Allegheny Health Education & Research Foundation (AHERF) bankruptcy, and is now completing a book on bankruptcy and the Philadelphia hospital market. He has also received an Investigator Award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to study the reasons for failure in organizational change efforts by health care providers.

Most recently, he completed a book on supply chain management in the health care industry: The Health Care Value Chain (Jossey-Bass, 2002). The study focuses on the strategic alliances and partnerships developing between pharmaceutical firms/distributors, disposable manufacturers, medical device manufacturers, group purchasing organizations, and organized delivery systems. He also has completed a companion volume on The Business of Healthcare Innovation (Cambridge University Press, 2005), which examines the market structure and trends in the pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device, and information system sectors of the global health care industry.