AHRQ Views: Blog posts from AHRQ leaders
AHRQ’s Digital Healthcare Research Program Is Identifying the Technology To Advance Care Quality, Safety, and Effectiveness
We know that digital healthcare technologies hold the promise of advancing healthcare quality, safety, and effectiveness. Improving performance in each of these areas is critical to AHRQ’s mission. But without rigorous research, we can’t determine which digital technologies truly help deliver better patient care. That’s what drives AHRQ’s Digital Healthcare Research (DHR) Program.
DHR is committed to identifying tools and resources that will improve health outcomes, reduce medical costs, and create a more efficient healthcare system. We do this by funding projects that address national priorities while also ensuring effectiveness through scientific rigor. In 2022, DHR managed a significant body of research: 108 grants and seven research contracts led by researchers at 69 institutions across 25 States and the District of Columbia.
Our recently released 2022 year in review, Improving Healthcare Through AHRQ’s Digital Healthcare Research, showcases several studies that focus on helping patients, providers, and health systems make more informed decisions about care options. We also note several projects that proved easily scalable across systems or that identified ways to improve uptake.
Patient engagement, a key factor in better health outcomes, is the thrust of one of our featured studies—Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s COMPACT project. Vanderbilt researchers are designing and rigorously evaluating a digital healthcare tool to help breast cancer patients better understand their treatment options, risks, and benefits. Using human-centered design techniques, COMPACT will empower patients to work with their providers to determine the best course of treatment.
On the provider front, the use of predictive analytics can enable proactive as opposed to reactive care. Our report highlights the University of Virginia’s PM-IMPACCT project that is testing whether providers can use artificial intelligence (AI) to identify which cardiac disease patients are most at risk for suffering dangerous complications, such as sepsis, hemorrhage, or respiratory decomposition. The project is coupling data from patient monitors, lab tests, and vital signs to alert providers to patients in need of proactive intervention.
We continue to be impressed by researchers’ ability to develop scalable tools that can be easily implemented by multiple health systems. Researchers at the University of Utah have successfully deployed a shared decision making (SDM) tool across eight Veterans Administration medical centers and the University of Utah Health. The tool, Decision Precision+, pulls electronic health record (EHR) data to provide individualized benefit and risk information for using low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) for early detection of lung cancer among individuals with a history of heavy smoking. Although the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends LDCT for lung cancer screening, it is used for less than 5 percent of eligible patients. However, researchers noted a significant uptick in LDCT usage following the implementation of Decision Precision+.
These are just a few of the many groundbreaking digital healthcare technologies that DHR-funded researchers examined this year. As we look ahead, we see both the need and opportunity to accelerate research in novel and fast-growing fields, such as AI.
As outlined in a Research Spotlight in the 2022 DHR review, the lag in adoption of AI-enabled health technologies buys some time for researchers to leverage proven methodologies to develop an evidence base to guide implementation. We also see a need to explore new, nimble funding mechanisms to support healthcare AI research projects. DHR is already tackling important research questions around AI for interpreting diagnostic imaging, predictive monitoring, and optimizing critical care. While much work remains ahead, we are eager to tackle these challenges.
As we wrap up another year, I am excited to see how these projects will help AHRQ achieve the improvements in care that patients deserve and fulfill the promise of current and future investments in digital solutions to the Nation’s healthcare challenges.
Chris Dymek is director of AHRQ’s Digital Healthcare Research Program.