Making a Difference in Health Care
Educators can make life sciences a priority for their students by integrating health-related information into the classroom.
Tomorrow's informed consumers are today's students.
Informed consumers can work in partnership with their physicians and other health care providers to choose treatment options and ensure more effective care. For this to happen, life sciences education must begin early, in the classroom.
What is health services research?
Health services research is concerned with the quality, effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of health care, as well as access to health care for all Americans and improvements in the way the Nation's complex health care system operates.
Medical treatment effectiveness research is one type of health services research. Through effectiveness research, patient outcomes and variations in treatment practices across patient groups and geographic areas are studied. The goal is to improve clinical practice and patient outcomes.
Variations in Health Care
Today, there are wide variations in treatment options, outcomes, and costs associated with some conditions. Some of these variations are due to differences in patients' needs and preferences; often, however, variations result from a lack of information about the effectiveness of treatments or differences in the "practice styles" or preferences of physicians and other health care providers.
It is not always easy for physicians to choose one health care treatment over another, especially for common ailments like lower back pain. One physician may prescribe medication, another may recommend surgery, and a third may decide not to treat a condition immediately but to "keep an eye on it." This is known as watchful waiting, and it is a valid treatment option for some conditions.
Medical Treatment Effectiveness
When variations result in differences in patient outcomes or resource use, questions must be asked about the quality, appropriateness, and cost effectiveness of health care. Medical treatment effectiveness research asks these questions and examines how and why treatment for a particular condition differs from one physician to another and one region of the country to another, as well as what effects these variations have on patient outcomes.
The goal of medical treatment effectiveness research is to determine what works best in health care. Medical treatment effectiveness researchers want to know:
- How patients benefit?
- What treatments work best?
- Are health care resources well spent?
Answers to these and other fundamental questions about the effects of care will help physicians make better decisions about treatments and assist health care policymakers as they make decisions about how and where care is made available and who pays for it. Perhaps most importantly, findings from medical treatment effectiveness research will lead to more informed patients who can play an active role in their own treatment.
Results from medical treatment effectiveness research will provide doctors and patients with the information they need to weigh the options and make sound choices about health care.
Resources for Educators
Researchers and educators can work together to make health-related information an important part of the life sciences curriculum. The following list of resources is provided to help teachers learn about and use information from medical treatment effectiveness research and other health services research, based on programs supported by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
Current as of August 2001
Health Services Research and Life Sciences Education: Making a Difference in Health Care. August 2001. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/child/edlifesc.htm