Disseminating Evidence-based Strategies to Improve Primary Care Delivery
Abel Kho, M.D., M.S.
Professor, Feinberg School of Medicine
“With AHRQ funding, I have built infrastructure to provide primary care practices with effective quality improvement strategies, benefiting a greater number of patients.”
Smaller primary care practices may have a limited knowledge of the best methods to prevent, screen for, and treat common yet serious health issues that can impact patient outcomes.
That’s why Abel N. Kho, M.D., M.S., a professor in the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois, is working to provide primary care practices with quality improvement strategies so they can more effectively screen for and manage patient conditions. With funding from AHRQ, Dr. Kho built multi-institutional collaborations to help smaller practices improve patients’ heart health and address unhealthy alcohol use.
In 2015, Dr. Kho received his first AHRQ grant to lead the Healthy Hearts in the Heartland (H3) consortium, part of the Agency’s EvidenceNOW: Advancing Heart Health in Primary Care initiative. The aim of the multi-institutional consortium—consisting of public and private health partnerships in southeastern Wisconsin, northeastern Illinois, and northern Indiana—was to identify best practices and resources for small primary care practices to improve the heart health of their patients. The H3 consortium specifically focused on the “ABCS” of cardiovascular disease prevention: Aspirin in high-risk individuals, Blood pressure control, Cholesterol management, and Smoking cessation. Notably, the H3 project allowed Dr. Kho and his team to build on their expertise with electronic health record (EHR) data to streamline data collection. Based on an analysis of these data, Dr. Kho concluded that quality improvement strategies for heart disease can be effectively implemented in primary care practices with fewer resources and less infrastructure.
As founding director of the Center for Health Information Partnerships and the Institute for Augmented Intelligence in Medicine at Northwestern, Dr. Kho also designed a training program to develop the next generation of health system transformation leaders. In 2018, he was awarded a 5-year AHRQ grant to establish A Chicago Center of Excellence in Learning Health Systems Research Training (ACCELERAT) within the Northwestern Institute for Public Health and Medicine. The program trains future leaders to transform care delivery and advance patient-centered research, while also delivering quality healthcare. Core training domains include mentorship and training, health services research, informatics, patient-reported outcomes, quality improvement in health systems, and fostering a culture of change. The project enabled Dr. Kho and his team to support the careers of future health services researchers, helping to advance the field.
While Dr. Kho was working on the ACCELERAT project, the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in the United States. In 2021, Dr. Kho received supplemental funds to enable ACCELERAT Scholars to address urgent COVID-19 topics related to their ongoing research. Dr. Kho and his team developed a tool that uses routine test results to predict whether emergency department patients were infected with the COVID-19 virus. The team found that the predictive tool could help providers better allocate scarce COVID-19 testing and other healthcare resources, such as personal protective equipment, during a pandemic surge. The project is expected to end on September 30, 2023.
Continuing his focus on educating primary care practices and future leaders, Dr. Kho received another AHRQ grant in 2019 to establish the INSPIRE training program: INtervention in Small Primary care practices to Implement Reduction in unhealthy alcohol usE. The purpose of the project was to develop and deploy online continuing medical education programs to support treatment for patients with unhealthy alcohol use and identify those who may benefit from further referral. While staffing shortages during the pandemic affected recruiting, the team saw some success as conditions improved. Dr. Kho continues to get inquiries about participating in INSPIRE or using the project’s EHR-linked clinical decision tool. The team still is in the data-gathering stage, because the project period was extended due to the pandemic. The project is expected to end on September 30, 2023.
Dr. Kho is a member of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA). He also is a Fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics, an honorary group within AMIA, and recipient of the Donald A.B. Lindbergh Award for Innovation in Informatics.
Related AHRQ Resources
- AHRQ COVID-19 Resources
- National Center for Excellence in Primary Care Research
- Unhealthy Alcohol Use Tools & Resources
Principal Investigator: Abel Kho, M.D., M.S.
Institution: Northwestern University
Grantee Since: 2015
Type of Grant: Various
Consistent with its mission, AHRQ provides a broad range of extramural research grants and contracts, research training, conference grants, and intramural research activities. AHRQ is committed to fostering the next generation of health services researchers who can focus on some of the most important challenges facing our Nation's health care system.
To learn more about AHRQ's Research Education and Training Programs, please visit https://www.ahrq.gov/training.