AHRQ Views: Blog posts from AHRQ leaders
2021: An AHRQ Year in Review
Turning the calendar to a new year is a time for taking stock—reflecting on our accomplishments and setting our sights on where we want to go next.
Throughout 2021, when many Federal employees have worked remotely, we acknowledge the efforts and sacrifice of so many who have continued to be on the front lines of care. Despite being physically distant as a result of the pandemic, AHRQ staff continued to generate new knowledge through health services research; to develop, test, and disseminate resources and tools to put new evidence into practice; and to produce data and analytics to guide healthcare decision making.
With admiration for the staff’s dedication, creativity, and passion, I offer the following examples of our achievements:
- In FY 2021, AHRQ awarded about $116.7 million in health services research grants, including $17 million to explore essential questions about healthcare delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers are using these grants to study the increased use of telehealth, how healthcare delivery systems can better meet the needs of rural and underserved communities, and effectiveness of innovations in patient safety. Findings will create healthcare delivery systems that are better prepared for everyday care and future crises. Preliminary findings for some of these COVID-19 focused grants are expected this spring.
- The AHRQ ECHO National Nursing Home COVID-19 Action Network was a vital contributor to HHS’s response to the pandemic—a source of free training and mentorship to help nursing homes increase evidence-based practices to keep residents and staff safe. More than 85 percent of the 9,000 participating nursing homes—representing more than 31,000 staff caring for almost 1.7 million residents—reported implementing a new safety practice as a result of the initiative.
- Our AHRQ Safety Program for Improving Antibiotic Use was evaluated in more than 400 acute care hospitals, 400 long-term care facilities, and nearly 400 ambulatory care practices and found to significantly reduce antibiotic use in all three settings. Participating hospitals, for example, reduced total antibiotic use by an average of 30.3 days of antibiotic therapy per 1,000 patient days. The program also demonstrated a 19.5 percent reduction in C. difficile infections over a one-year period. AHRQ is now producing and disseminating practical toolkits tailored to these settings to widely implement this program into practice.
- As part of the Agency’s ongoing analysis of hospital data, AHRQ’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) produced a series of Statistical Briefs that applied a unique lens to hospitalizations during the pandemic’s first year (2020). These briefs offered data insights according to patients’ age, income, race and ethnicity, geographic location, and expected insurance payer. Combined with additional information related to COVID-19, these analyses have strong potential to assess the Nation’s capacity to respond to public health emergencies and other urgent questions.
- Following the lead of the Biden-Harris administration and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Becerra, in 2021 AHRQ reaffirmed its goal of increasing healthcare equity. An important part of this effort was development of a new social determinants of health (SDOH) database. This tool offers SDOH-focused datasets to use in patient-centered outcomes research to inform approaches that address emerging health issues and, ultimately, improve health and healthcare outcomes. In October, AHRQ launched a free Spanish-language version of our QuestionBuilder app to help Hispanic patients prepare for in-person or telehealth appointments.
Throughout 2021, the Agency team focused on aligning our work with the goals set forth by the Administration and HHS. In the fall, we invited stakeholders to share ideas on how AHRQ can help build the healthcare system’s resilience to climate change. The Agency also strove to revitalize primary care, expand access to high-quality behavioral healthcare, and improve diagnostic safety.
Looking forward, we are excited about the President’s FY 2022 budget proposal, which outlines opportunities for us to embark on important new work in maternal health, healthcare equity, primary care research, and care for substance abuse disorders. We will continue to focus on advancing diagnostic safety, improving care for people with multiple chronic conditions, and ensuring that our data analytics are useful for healthcare decision making at Federal, State, and local levels. In early 2022, AHRQ will also propose a new strategic framework to guide our investments from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Trust Fund. AHRQ will also work to help the healthcare delivery system recover from the stress of the pandemic, with attention to long COVID and a focus on ensuring healthcare professional well-being.
Thank you to everyone inside and outside of AHRQ who worked throughout 2021 to improve health and healthcare. Here’s to a happy, healthy, and transformative new year.
David Meyers is acting director of AHRQ.