Chapter 3. Results (continued)

Evaluation of AHRQ's Children's Health Activities


Primary Objective 2

Primary Objective 2 was to measure and assess to what extent AHRQ's children's health care activities, i.e., its research findings, meetings, conference support, products, tools, etc., improved clinical practice and health care outcomes and influenced heath care policies over the past fifteen years. To address this objective, we used Stryer's approach to categorizing the impact of research findings, bibliometric analyses, and qualitative case studies of high-impact activities. The tables referred to in this section can be found in Appendix C.

Stryer analysis  

We coded the external and internal publications by the Stryer categories (Table 18). As mentioned earlier, we were only able to code those publications with full abstracts available on-line. Similar to the findings by Stryer and colleagues, more than two-thirds (70%) of the publications relay research findings. Fourteen percent of the publications focus on research on policy changes or with clear policy implications. Fifteen percent of the publications describe research that evaluates clinical behavior, demonstrates changes in clinical behavior, or demonstrates the use of tools in a clinical setting. One percent of the publications describe research to determine which clinical or health behaviors affect health outcomes. We also calculated the mean (and standard deviation) Stryer score within each of the categorizations (Table 19). Appendix D provides a list of the publications included in the Stryer analysis along with the results of the coding effort.

Bibliometric analysis


We examined the number of times child health publications were cited as a measure of the impact of AHRQ's children's health activities. Overall, the 794 external and internal publications arising from AHRQ's children's health work were cited nearly 3,000 times.24 Table 19 shows the mean (and standard deviation) number of citations for each categorization scheme.

Impact factors 

We also examined the impact factor of the journal in which the child health articles appeared. Publications from AHRQ's children's health activities tended to cluster within a few key journals. The most common journal was Pediatrics with 122 publications. The activities also led to publications in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine (40), Health Services Research (36), Medical Care (36) and Ambulatory Pediatrics (31). It is notable that the vast majority of publications appear in pediatric-focused journals. This is to be expected, but at the same time, if a goal is to raise the profile of children's health activities, then AHRQ should be encouraging children's health researchers to publish more in journals such as Health Services Research and Medical Care than they are now. Across the 616 publications with impact scores, the average impact score was 3.79 with the range extending from 44 for the New England Journal of Medicine to .35 for Current Therapeutic Research-Clinical and Experimental. In general, clinical journals have a higher impact score than do health services or health policy journals. Table 20 shows the average impact score for the publications in each Stryer category. For those publications that primarily described research findings, the average impact score was 3.16. The average impact score for publications focused on policies and their impact was somewhat higher at 3.65. Publications that described the clinical impact of interventions had an average impact score of 4.56. Those publications that focused on how clinical or health behaviors affect health outcomes had a considerably higher average impact score of 7.84. Table 19 shows the mean (and standard deviation) of the impact factor for journals in which child health articles were published within each of the categorization schemes.

Case studies and key informant interviews

We present the results of the case studies and key informant interviews according to the main topics addressed: a) The impact on policy, clinical processes, or health care outcomes; b) The processes that influenced these activities' impact; c) The ways in which AHRQ staff contributed to the impact of these activities; and d) The ways in which structural or organizational characteristics of AHRQ contributed to the impact of these activities.


The first case we studied was the body of intramural and externally funded research around SCHIP, including CHIRI™. Early intramural research at AHRQ informed the implementation of some of the SCHIP regulations. CHIRI™, an initiative consisting of more than $9 million of funding to 9 extramural research projects over the course of 3 years, was conceived of as a way of exploiting the natural experiment resulting from the latitude given to States to implement their SCHIP programs. The David and Lucille Packard Foundation and the Health Resources and Services Administration co-funded CHIRI™.

Respondents cited a wide range of impacts for AHRQ's SCHIP/CHIRI™ activities. Many respondents suggested that determining the impact of research on policy is very difficult because policy making is extremely complex and multi-determined, with research as only one of several inputs into the policy decision. Nevertheless, respondents were able to point to examples of this work being cited and used by policy makers. Respondents suggested that AHRQ's pre-SCHIP intramural research documenting the number of potentially insurable children, as well as AHRQ's collaboration with other agencies such as the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) were both important in informing implementation regulations. CHIRI™ research was cited as useful at both federal and state policy levels. One respondent (a CHIRI™ P.I.) reported that CHIRI™ research was cited in debates at the federal level to argue against proposed cuts in a specific service program. Another CHIRI™ PI reported that state legislatures relied heavily on CHIRI™ research in crafting policy for renewing enrollment and for preventive care. Other respondents reported that CHIRI™ results were regularly disseminated to policy makers through the CHIRI™ Policy Advisory Committee and at national meetings of state SCHIP directors. In sum, AHRQ's internal activities and support of the CHIRI™ initiative can be characterized as having a discernible impact on children's health policy.

Several key factors related to this impact were cited. A number of respondents cited key features of the RFP that AHRQ prepared as being influential. These included requiring investigators to partner with state officials and to collaborate across projects, and an emphasis on dissemination. A respondent representing another funder reported that the 'CHIRI™ model' was one that the funder organization had subsequently employed successfully in another arena. Other cooperative agreements typically require some degree of collaboration across projects but, unlike SCHIP/CHIRI™, none had required partnership with policy makers. As one respondent stated:

" The RFP process was one of the things that made CHIRI™ a success. It required applicants to work with policy makers before putting in their application to make sure policy makers cared about their research. This brought some people who had working relationships with policy makers but were not necessarily traditional AHRQ researchers into the application pool. The RFP also required researchers to continue working with policy makers throughout grant. This forced researchers to establish a relationship with policy makers at the beginning, which facilitated impact and dissemination after the research was done. There was also a users group set up, which became part of the dissemination network, who commented early on about research and its usefulness and later on about how the results could be used and disseminated."

Respondents also cited the efficiency and determination of AHRQ Project Officer Cindy Brach as critical. Respondents reported that Ms. Brach was particularly effective in creating a collaborative environment, in making sure that investigators were producing research that was useful for policy makers, and in ensuring that policy relevant information was disseminated to the appropriate audiences. One respondent compared experiences between the CHIRI™ cooperative agreement and that of another, stating that in the other cooperative agreement, one investigator had expressed concern about sharing findings and guarding intellectual property. In that case, the project officer had not been able to dispel those concerns in order to create a collaborative environment, but this respondent noted that Ms. Brach was able to do this very well.

Another factor cited was the engagement of an outside professional to create research briefs and technical reports. Along with that, the CHIRI™ project was successful in developing a 'brand' by using a consistent logo and acronym and by giving advance notice to intended audiences that there would be findings produced from this effort.

Partnering with the Packard Foundation was advantageous in two ways. The first was that Packard Foundation project staff were persuasive and facilitative in developing policy relevant documents and in creating forums for these to occur. Secondly, the Packard Foundation was able to underwrite the costs of dinners during the CHIRI™-wide meetings. This was important in creating a collaborative group feeling. Several respondents stated that the group of CHIRI™ investigators developed mentor/mentee relationships and professional collaborations that have extended beyond the scope and timing of the initial CHIRI™ initiative.

Difficulties also existed. There was a sense from investigators that, while the overall process was positive, it was painful and at times frustrating to be required to produce collaborative products and to focus on policy relevant work. One interviewee reported that:

" The project was done as well as it could have been. There is a tension between academics who are interested in publications for CV's and promotion and the policymakers who are interested in getting the information out. Including the academics delays the process but increases the credibility of the research. The CHRI project addressed this tension. While they could have gotten publications out more quickly, both sides compromised."

At the same time, these investigators recognized the necessity of this mandate and grew professionally as a result. Part of the reason that there was such a steep learning curve for investigators in this arena may be related to an observation from one respondent that the review panel for the CHIRI™ initiative was composed in the standard manner and given the standard charge to focus on scientific merit. This respondent felt that better representation of policy researchers or other interested stakeholders might have resulted in the selection of projects or investigators with more experience in policy.

Respondents described another tension between AHRQ's role as a research agency and the Agency's or researchers' desires to inform policy. Several respondents suggested that AHRQ could do more to publicize the results of its findings, but others recognized the tension between research and policy advocacy and that, in the current political climate and as an agency of the federal government, there was the potential for pressure on AHRQ and AHRQ-supported researchers to publicize only 'positive' findings. As one respondent reported:

" There is a constant pull between justifying their existence to Capitol Hill—and then it has to be the 'right' policy—and the fact that they have created an enormous community of researchers that depend on them for funding. This is a difficult balancing act and I am not sure how to negotiate the tension. People in the academic community want no strings attached to their research funding, but AHRQ has to show the impact of the work to people on the Hill."

In terms of the role of AHRQ staff, as described above, the work by Cindy Brach was described as a key factor influencing the success of this case. Her abilities to hold investigators to their deadline commitments, to encourage collaboration among investigators, to balance the investigators' needs for publications with the policy makers' needs for information, and her willingness to engage outside professionals (for example, to create policy briefs), were often cited. Another key contribution from AHRQ staff was that of then-Deputy Director Lisa Simpson. Respondents credited her with pushing the CHIRI™ initiative forward after a meeting of federal agencies and other funders failed to bring forward a clear private sponsor of the proposed initiative.

Turning to structural and organizational characteristics, respondents noted challenges related to AHRQ dissemination of findings. One respondent noted that:

" AHRQ is totally backwards as to where they put their emphasis. They don't look past when the grant is ended and that's when a lot of the impact starts occurring. As part of grant requirement, AHRQ should require that a chunk of time and money be devoted to dissemination. For example, AHRQ could put an extra year into the grant to fund dissemination. AHRQ is not rewarding researchers for doing dissemination and although a large number of researchers have a personal incentive to develop publications, it is not always the case."

Respondents had further structural suggestions. One suggestion was to require Cooperative Agreements to have a dedicated dissemination coordinator. Another was to improve the functioning of the public affairs office so that it could better present a more comprehensive and integrated picture of AHRQ's work to various audiences. A third was that AHRQ's information systems ought to be focused on tracking dissemination and impact as well as getting through the grant review and funding process, as illustrated by the following:

" Even AHRQ's information system is structured to get through the grant process and not focused on impact of dissemination after grant done (e.g., there is no systematic way of tracking publications). Although the mindset within some areas of AHRQ has shifted, infrastructure (IT and public affairs) has not made a similar shift."
Asthma and ADHD

Our second case concerned moving evidence into practice for asthma and ADHD. Conceptually, the process of moving evidence into practice can be seen as a) Distilling the evidence to create guidelines; b) Informing practitioners of the guidelines and motivating behavior change; and c) Improving outcomes. In this case study, AHRQ involvement in both asthma and ADHD began with evidence reviews, resulted in AAP guidelines (or in asthma the NAEPP 2002 EPR2), and researchers subsequently responded to RFAs on implementation in practice. A variety of AHRQ projects focused on the first two of these, and presumably had some effect on the third.

In this case, respondents had mixed assessments of the impact of AHRQ's funding. AHRQ's role in distilling the evidence, primarily funding Evidence-based Practice Centers (EPCs) to perform evidence reviews was seen as having substantial impact. One respondent reported that 85 percent of the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) clinical guidelines were based on AHRQ evidence reviews. Respondents cited the value, in terms of rigor and credibility, of having an agency like AHRQ arrange for and fund these reviews and they cited the reviews of evidence regarding diagnosis and treatment of both asthma and ADHD as extremely valuable. As one interviewee reported:

" Because of AHRQ's Evidence-based Practice Centers (EPC) clinical practice guidelines have changed. Previously, the guidelines were done on a shoestring budget but AHRQ's involvement allowed high quality evidence reviews on topics that are relevant, and the results are far better than what had been done previously. The ADHD field is controversial, so the quality of the evidence reviews behind the guidelines is important."

However, certain shortcomings were noted. Some noted that most of the EPCs were unaccustomed to thinking about children's issues, and suggested that AHRQ should implement policies that require EPCs to include children in their reports unless there is a compelling reason not to. One interviewee noted the difficulty of creating guidelines for preventive care given the state of the evidence and that AHRQ is beginning to address this.

The main disappointment in the EPC reviews was the length of time it took to complete them. Several respondents noted that the advisory committees, as well as the committees attempting to write the guidelines, were frustrated by reviews that took so long to complete that the evidence was out of date. This forced these committees either to attempt to update the reviews themselves or to ask the EPC reviewers to update them. As a result, respondents reported that they decided on several occasions not to suggest additional topics for review for fear of "gumming up the works." One respondent felt that, in addition to the long time required, EPC reviewers at times had the tendency to "make something out of nothing." By this, the respondent meant that there were occasions where the evidence was scarce, yet instead of stating this and moving on, the EPC reviewers pulled evidence from other areas and over-interpreted the scanty existing literature to derive an answer this respondent felt was unjustified.

Despite these disappointments, respondents reported that when they or their organizations had attempted to review the evidence themselves, the product was not nearly as robust as an AHRQ EPC review. They therefore offered several suggestions for improvement. The first was a suggestion that the EPCs release their reviews in phases as questions are answered, rather than all together in one report at the end. Another suggestion was for EPCs to offer a product consisting of the evidence tables only, without the accompanying text interpreting the tables and synthesizing the results of the tables. Another possibility would be to release the information in stages so that at least the evidence tables got to the field earlier. All of these suggestions, it was felt, would allow the EPC reviewers to produce more timely products without sacrificing validity.

In terms of dissemination of results and motivating practice changes, respondents cited AHRQ's funding of the University of North Carolina CERT asthma toolkit and initiative as well as its funding of the AAP's national collaborative on improving ADHD. Other respondents cited AHRQ's support of the Practice-Based Research Networks (PBRNs) as being important in creating infrastructure for disseminating results and motivating practice change. It should be noted that key to dissemination is the readiness of the practice community to take up new guidelines such as these. Nevertheless, other respondents felt that, in terms of moving evidence into practice and improving outcomes, AHRQ activities did not have much of an impact. These respondents reported that AHRQ did not appear to be particularly interested in documenting the impact of tools it had helped develop, nor in research on changing clinical practice. This divergence of viewpoints seemed to correspond to the primary interests of the respondents. Those most interested in research and from more traditional academic settings tended to be pleased with AHRQ's attempts to move research into practice, while those from more applied settings or with a primary interest in practice (as opposed to research) tended to be less sanguine in their views.

Respondents cited several key factors associated with impact, all having to do with creating an infrastructure wherein evidence could be moved into practice. The informational infrastructure of evidence-based reviews, the practice-based research infrastructure, and the funding of tools for improvement were cited as factors in creating the potential for change in clinical practice and outcomes.

In terms of the role of AHRQ staff, Denise Dougherty's efforts were particularly noted. Several respondents cited her tireless work to make sure children's health activities were included in larger AHRQ efforts and to engage other organizations and agencies in this work.

Turning to organizational and structural characteristics of AHRQ, respondents reported their perceptions that the emphasis at AHRQ was on dissemination, as opposed to implementation of results. One respondent suggested that AHRQ is "still in the mode of paying for good science, getting it published, and hoping for the best." Another reported that:

" AHRQ needs to be better at translating policy into practice. It is always done last and as more of an afterthought. There needs to be more emphasis on getting the word out. This would include improving its Web site, which is very busy and hard to navigate."

Some thought the under emphasis on implementation had to do with AHRQ being more connected to the research community than to the practice community. For example, one respondent asked:

" Whether AHRQ considers their target audience to be NIH-funded researchers or practitioners. If AHRQ is trying to reach practitioners then they need to ask whether and how they are reaching them. At the practice level, there is competition for time. It is easier for practitioners to go along with the local chapter of AAP than to wonder what AHRQ is doing."

Another respondent was more encouraging, noting that recent AHRQ activities in improvement research were a good start:

" Having the courage to look at interventions that are a bit outside the box and that could impact care is very good. AHRQ is beginning to look at how to support these activities. They are to be commended for that—we need AHRQ's leadership to expand the NIH biomedical paradigm."

This respondent suggested that AHRQ could have a stronger voice in pushing the definition of 'translational research' from clinical research to practice change and care delivery.

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Primary Objective 4

Primary Objective 4: Measure and assess to what extent the Agency succeeded in involving children's health care stakeholders and/or creating partnerships to fund and disseminate key child health activities.

We used the case studies and key informant interviews to address Objective 4. Several successful examples of partnership development were cited. Respondents cited CHIRI™ as a very good example of forming partnerships: AHRQ partnered with the Packard Foundation and HRSA to fund CHIRI™; the RFP structure forced researchers to work closely with policy makers; and the structure of the project, with its emphasis on collaboration and cross-project findings brought researchers together. Another example of partnering was AHRQ's coordination with the FDA in the 1990's regarding regulations on including children in research on new medicines.

Another important example of partnering was AHRQ's efforts to develop a child health services research community. Interviewees cited AHRQ's funding for the annual Child Health Services Research Meeting and other meetings as beneficial to the child health community. As one interviewee reported:

" AHRQ has provided funding for an annual forum every year that 500-600 people attend. It is the only forum where people from a variety of settings (public, regulatory, private, hospital) get together. These forums would not have happened without AHRQ funding. There is also an annual conference in quality improvement (in 5th year) that has had continuous AHRQ support and a conference coming up on Medicaid quality and children that AHRQ is supporting. There has also been ongoing support from AHRQ for dissemination and Denise Dougherty has been tireless in advocacy, coordinating and networking."

The child health listserv was cited several times as very useful and informative, and staff at other agencies and organizations gave kudos to AHRQ staff and especially Denise Dougherty for finding opportunities to collaborate. AHRQ's funding of NRSA awards for child health services research fellows was also seen as very important in building a child health services research community. However, many interviewees noted that having formed this community, the subsequent restriction of funding for extramural child health services research grants meant that this community and its accumulated expertise was in danger of dissolving and moving on to other fields or areas of inquiry.

Nevertheless, there were several challenges and opportunities. Several interviewees noted that cooperation between AHRQ and other institutes/agencies been uneven, as the following quote illustrates:

" AHRQ and MCHB haven't "played well together" which has interfered with children's research activities. It would be better if they coordinated. The same is true for the CDC. They need to leverage relationships in other areas to support kids' research and partnerships."

Another interviewee expressed disappointment in AHRQ's lack of proactive work with CMS:

" Theoretically, CMS is a potent lever to affect quality and AHRQ has not figured out what policy research should be done to get CMS to push those levers and put teeth into improving quality. There has been no strategic thinking about leveraging the influence of CMS to help improve quality. Partnering is the right approach, but only if you focus on the right issue. There is a need to focus on how to improve children's health care quality overall."

Several key stakeholders at other agencies suggested that their agencies have not been particularly interested in partnering with AHRQ. One reason for this is the perception that their agencies and AHRQ do not overlap in mission or mandate. Another reason cited was that AHRQ's budget was too small to enable partnering around funding. For example, one interviewee at an NIH agency reported that, "I am unaware of AHRQ's work on ADHD or asthma and really have no knowledge about AHRQ's work on children's health in general, although I think highly of the few AHRQ people with whom I have come in contact, especially Denise Dougherty." On the other hand, one researcher interviewee suggested that AHRQ in general and Denise Dougherty in particular had played a critical role in keeping NIH agencies aware of the need to translate evidence into practice.

In terms of partnering with other organizations beyond HHS, there was a sense that AHRQ could do more to reach out to both the policy and practice communities. The sense from interviewees in the improvement community and the family/consumer advocacy community was that AHRQ could be much more responsive to their immediate needs for improvement and could play a greater role in these areas, but that the Agency was more concerned with academic research and more attuned to the needs of academic researchers. As one interviewee stated:

" The basic issue is that there is a tendency to see the world through a very narrow lens. For an organization like AHRQ to be effective, they have to figure out a way to broaden their support base and be responsive to audiences who are not their natural allies. AHRQ's work will be more useful if they ask questions about what information policy makers need to make programs work better. Their stuff will be more useful if they ask people on (Capitol) Hill what they need to make this program better. AHRQ needs to reach out beyond the true believers to those in the field (policy, practitioners) to find out what information they need and what they want and then do that."

Similarly, respondents suggested that AHRQ should think of itself as a problem-solving agency:

" (They) need to find problems where you see promising research that might solve a definable problem and take that research and apply it.... "What is going into JAMA and NEJM is irrelevant, because that is to convince the skeptics—what I want to do is go back to the people that they are working with to implement it—what works, what didn't, how does it go to scale, how do you implement."

Others wanted to see AHRQ reach out to "organizations that broadly impact children's health, such as the AAP, institutions leading change (like Cincinnati Children's) and groups like NACHRI." As one interviewee put it:

" The academic community is not well connected to the practice community. AHRQ needs to decide whether it is important for them to reach the practice community. Then, they need to look at the budget and see if they have put money into reaching practitioners. One way to link to practitioners would be to talk to local AAP leaders or have focus groups of providers. AHRQ should think about what interests practitioners, what format, what content, and what kind of support needs to accompany it. This kind of activity would help them become part of the implementation world as opposed to standing on the sideline."

The thread running through all these comments was that partnering more effectively with organizations or stakeholders that create change (either policy or clinical) would have a two-fold effect: It would allow the Agency to better realize its mission and it would allow the Agency to advocate for more resources by providing specific answers to the 'Porter Question.'

24. The number of times an article was cited was not available for all the identified publications so it is likely that this number is an underestimation.

Page last reviewed October 2006
Internet Citation: Chapter 3. Results (continued): Evaluation of AHRQ's Children's Health Activities. October 2006. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD.