July 21, 2014 12:00 PM
Health services research, put simply, is the science of study that determines what works, for whom, at what cost, and under what circumstances. It studies how our health system works, how to support patients and providers in choosing the right care, and how to improve health through care delivery.
Since its inception, AcademyHealth has been advancing this field by acting as a broker of information, bringing together stakeholders to address the current and future needs of an evolving health system, inform health policy, and translate evidence into action.
Under the leadership of President and CEO Lisa Simpson, MB, BCh, M.P.H., FAAP, AcademyHealth has built upon the strengths of its predecessor organizations—the Alpha Center, a leading health policy resource center, and the nonprofit professional society the Association for Health Services Research—and become a leading national organization serving the field and the professionals who produce and use this important work. Thanks to the collective brain trust of AcademyHealth members, its non-partisan approach, and its successful track record, AcademyHealth is a trusted partner in the discovery and dissemination of timely and relevant research-based strategies to improve health and health care. The organization offers programs and services that support the development and use of evidence to increase the quality, accessibility, and value of health care, to reduce disparities, and to improve health as well as bring stakeholders together to address the current and future needs of an evolving health system, inform health policy, and translate evidence into action.
Tying together the organization’s various program and project teams are two fundamental program areas:
Generating New Knowledge
AcademyHealth’s more than 5,100 individual and roughly 180 Organizational Affiliate members are faculty and clinical leaders from the nation’s top universities and academic medical centers, representatives of major U.S. government health agencies, state and local health department leaders, and executives from a wide range of health care delivery systems, including medical groups, hospitals, integrated delivery systems, and health plans.
Together with its members, AcademyHealth increases the understanding of methods and data used in the field, enhances the professional skills of researchers and research users, and expands awareness. Through its programs, such as the Aetna Foundation Minority Scholarship and NCHS/AcademyHealth Health Policy Fellowship, its Interest Groups, assemblies like the HSR Learning Consortium and Methods Council, and many other projects concentrating on a range of health research/policy areas, AcademyHealth contributes to the financial, human, and data infrastructure necessary to improve the scientific basis of the field and in doing so, lays a foundation for the future.
Although AcademyHealth staff work year round to fulfill the organization’s mission of advancing the field, much of its work is highlighted during its signature annual events—the Annual Research Meeting (ARM), the National Health Policy Conference (NHPC), and the Health Policy Orientation (HPO)—as well as during some of its newer meetings, the National Child Health Policy Conference and the Physician Executives Health Policy Orientation.
Moving Knowledge Into Action
In a time when the U.S. health care system needs tremendous improvement, moving knowledge into action has never been more important—or more opportune. In a care delivery system wrought with medical errors, high costs, inefficiencies, and access issues, health services research has the potential to address some of the nation’s toughest health care system challenges.
AcademyHealth works alongside policymakers and providers at all levels to apply the research evidence to real-world health care challenges. This ranges from offering expert testimony to consulting on implementation challenges to providing technical assistance. In addition, through various educational programs, meetings, and workshops, AcademyHealth helps decision makers and stakeholders understand the implications and opportunities of health research.
As another way to augment its work in this area, in 2012, AcademyHealth launched the Translation and Dissemination Institute. Intended to act as an incubator for new and innovative approaches for moving knowledge into action, the Translation and Dissemination Institute conducts activities in three interrelated domains: listening to policymakers and health system leaders to help researchers identify pressing research topics, innovating by advancing the art and science of translation and dissemination for policy and practice, and acting by promoting the translation and dissemination of research for the policymakers and health system leaders who need it.
Grasping the context of the field and recognizing where it’s going, both in terms of challenges and opportunities, drives the other components of this program area. AcademyHealth has a number of teams working in areas encompassing public health systems research (PHSR), health information technology (HIT), and comparative effectiveness research (CER), whose work reflects the current understanding of the field and identifies future needs. As evidenced by the vast growth in the PHSR Interest Group and an increasing number of related programs and activities, AcademyHealth’s members are increasingly interested in health system factors that maintain health and prevent or reduce the need for care. In response, AcademyHealth’s public health portfolio has expanded rapidly over the past few years to address population health and prevention. Current programs advance the scientific base of PHSR, promote its application to current policy challenges, and facilitate the discovery of upstream interventions that promote health.
Another area that has experienced notable growth is AcademyHealth’s work with data, particularly through the EDM Forum, an effort supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The EDM Forum is a unique learning community that helps researchers, policy analysts, health system leaders, and other key stakeholders address shared challenges when using “big data” to improve health. Working together, the EDM Forum is advancing understanding of ways to build learning systems capable of improving patient care and outcomes. The project has created a new, online, peer-reviewed journal, eGEMS, which is an outlet for sharing lessons about learning from clinical electronic data, and has an annual symposium with invited and peer-reviewed presentations.
Each program housed at AcademyHealth builds off the others to further its overarching mission. But additionally, AcademyHealth sees the importance in recognizing notable contributions being made externally, in the field. One way the organization does this is through its annual HSR Impact Award, which acknowledges research that has made a positive impact on health policy and/or practice. Previous notable award winners include the WHO Surgical Safety Checklist, the groundbreaking work to identify and address “The Invisible Wounds of War,” and the Oregon Health Insurance Experiment.
The United States health care system faces a long road to becoming more equitable, more valuable, more collaborative, and more accessible. Health services research can and will tell us how to make the best use of the resources available, but as the country grapples with its own economic and political challenges, the funding and resources necessary to produce this work will be increasingly difficult to obtain.
Moving forward, AcademyHealth knows its responsibility—to speak up for the contributions health services research has made and will continue to make, to demonstrate its value to policy and decision makers, and to ensure that our researchers have the resources and skills to continue building the evidence base that can improve our health care system, and thus, improve both outcomes and health.
If you would like to become more involved with the organization's work, or if you would like to learn more about AcademyHealth, please visit www.academyhealth.org, and connect with them on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.