AHRQ Views: Blog posts from AHRQ leaders
A Boost for Health Services Research
It has been just four months since joining President Biden’s Administration as Director of AHRQ. What a whirlwind! The meetings, budgeting execution and planning, and programmatic planning sessions have kept my talented colleagues and me extremely busy. But what an exciting and opportune time to tackle the many issues facing our healthcare system!
This initial period culminated earlier this month when I enjoyed the privilege of speaking at the
AcademyHealth 2022 Annual Research Meeting (ARM) here in Washington, D.C. Now that we’re back from ARM, this seems like a good opportunity to catch our breath. The 4-month milestone is an excellent place to assess what I’ve learned about AHRQ—where we are, what our priorities should be, and how we’ll work together to achieve them.
Here’s my take on some of today’s significant healthcare challenges:
- Healthcare workforce. Our healthcare system is only as strong as the people working in it. Our doctors, nurses, technicians, and allied health professionals are skilled and dedicated, but they work themselves to the bone. We risk witnessing patient and health professional safety events because of workforce depletion. To have high-quality healthcare, we need to rebuild and nurture our workforce.
- Data and analytics. We don’t know enough about how care is provided in many healthcare settings. We don’t know enough about the context within which people seek care (or don’t). These contextual factors, collectively known as social determinants of health, profoundly impact care. While AHRQ is testing a database to inform research around these issues, this work remains nascent. To make healthcare as effective, efficient, and equitable as possible, the healthcare system and individual providers need real-time, actionable data that will lead to real-time answers. My goal is for AHRQ to support healthcare systems like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention supports local and state public health systems, including performance data and analytics. Congress set us up to do this monitoring and assessment work, and hopefully we can have the resources to achieve it.
- Maximizing the role of health services research. Health services research (HSR) explores the effectiveness of care by looking at circumstances in which it is delivered—dynamics such as access, cost, patient and clinician behavior, and social factors. AHRQ is uniquely positioned to advance HSR to tell the stories that will lead to system improvement and better patient outcomes. When properly applied, HSR can work hand-in-glove with biomedical research to provide new and effective treatments or re-organize current resources in new ways where they’re needed most, as rapidly as possible.
I’m working with the AHRQ leadership team to address these issues. They are not our sole concerns, however. We’re actively supporting Administration priorities as they relate to healthcare.
First, we are committed to addressing the enduring impacts of structural racism within the healthcare context and working toward health equity. At AHRQ, we recognize that health equity is not a matter of equal resources or access. It acknowledges that everybody needs different kinds of resources and different mixes of services. We also think about allocating resources in culturally appropriate ways across communities, because healthcare ultimately is a local endeavor.
Secondly, AHRQ acknowledges its role in addressing climate change and the environmental impact of healthcare. This is important to the Administration, and it’s important to us. As we move to reduce our carbon footprint in healthcare, there will be a transition period. AHRQ can help the Nation figure out how we make that transition in a way that is affordable, environmentally responsible, and protects patients and health professionals from safety risks.
Finally, we remain aligned with the Administration’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re all tired of COVID—of living with it, of talking about it—but we are far from being done with it. Pandemics can have long and wide-ranging consequences, as we now see in patients with long COVID. This will likely create demands on our healthcare system that we don’t yet understand. Recovering from the pandemic will remain a priority for the Administration and AHRQ until we’re out of the woods. Addressing long-COVID will shape the future of U.S. healthcare in our communities. AHRQ will assist local healthcare leaders in making difficult decisions with analytics, scientifically based recommendations, and suggestions for charting a more effective and fairer healthcare system.
So, these are the things I’m thinking about as the initial rush of my joining AHRQ subsides. The challenges are significant, but I’m confident we’re up to the task. We are limited only by our imagination, so let’s work together and dream big to better serve our communities and the Nation!
Dr. Valdez is Director of AHRQ.