AHRQ Views: Blog posts from AHRQ leaders
AHRQ Dives Into a Dialogue With Health Data Community
Can you imagine a world with unlimited access to the data that users need?
I posed this question last week to an impressive audience of Federal, State, and local policymakers, researchers, health experts and entrepreneurs. They had agreed to share their ideas at an AHRQ-sponsored discussion about the growing potential of data to improve health care for all Americans.
The meeting took place in Washington, D.C., shortly before the kick-off of the 2018 Health Datapalooza. As many of you know, Health Datapalooza is an annual event that attracts a diverse community of big thinkers and problem solvers who share a mission to liberate data, and use data to improve health and health care.
AHRQ's pre-session event—"AHRQ Data Competencies to Support Decision Makers: What Do You Need to Make Decisions at the State and Local Levels to Improve Health Care?"—brought together key data experts and decision makers who shared their thoughts in two important areas. First, they shared information about how they use AHRQ's premier data platforms—the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). But just as important, attendees helped us understand more about their unmet needs and gaps in the data available for them to use.
The robust conversation kicked off with Mona Siddiqui, M.D., the Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) chief data officer, who discussed the new approach that HHS is taking to improve the accessibility and timeliness of data. As Dr. Siddiqui explained, HHS Secretary Azar has launched the Department on a plan to mine data from across the Department. It's a long-term endeavor, perhaps 15 years or more. The goal is to collect and distribute data that are accessible and actionable, and can be combined with other public and private partners to help find solutions to the most complex problems we are facing.
While that is a long-term goal, many experts in the room acknowledged the biggest crisis we have today is the opioid epidemic. We have been gratified to learn that AHRQ's data are consistently used by policymakers, researchers, health professionals and entrepreneurs to measure the impact of opioid misuse. Anand Parekh, M.D., the chief medical advisor of the Bipartisan Policy Institute, led a spirited panel of State officials who are vigorously working each and every day to find solutions to win the battle against addiction, overdoses, and deaths from opioids.
One panelist, Kate Neuhausen, M.D., the chief medical officer for the Virginia Department of Medical Assistant Services, spoke about how AHRQ has been an invaluable partner in helping move Virginia to focus more on data to help improve quality of life, reduce preventable hospitalizations, and defeat the opioid crisis for Virginians, especially those on Medicaid.
While AHRQ's data is critical for State policymakers looking at hospitalizations, emergency department visits, or out-of-pocket spending, an important aspect that isn’t apparent in the data are the reasons behind why people are using health care in the first place. For example, Dr. Neuhausen said she would like to see AHRQ enhance its data platforms to incorporate data from the criminal justice, education, and housing sectors. The addition of that data—and the increased use of analytic capabilities—may help addiction experts understand more about the population of patients accessing care for misusing opioids—and what can be done to help.
Finally, panelists and attendees spoke eloquently about the need to find solutions to improve transitions in care as patients move across different health systems, primary care practices, and even across State borders. Electronic health records (EHRs) have improved access to care and provided patients with a seat at the table to better understand their health. Having the ability to work with other HHS agencies to enhance the use of EHRs and coordinate care between providers is vital to ensuring their success. In addition, making patients' health care data accessible to various providers would be valuable to health services researchers studying the needs of different patient populations.
Derek DeLia, Ph.D., the director of Health Economics and Health Systems Research at MedStar Health Research Institute, said it's not uncommon for patients to visit various providers, clinics, and health care systems in New York, New Jersey, and Philadelphia. Unfortunately, the EHRs at each facility don't necessarily travel with the patient, and often this data disconnect interrupts patients' continuity of care.
Engaging key stakeholders about their data needs is critical to AHRQ's efforts to help improve health care delivery. We were energized to have so many policymakers, researchers, and health system leaders attend our event and help us understand how AHRQ might address their data needs.
From our perspective, the discussion is just beginning. Every day represents a new chance to brainstorm how the burgeoning availability and use of data and analytics can further AHRQ's mission to improve the health care of all Americans. We welcome your feedback and thoughts, so please email us at AHRQReimagineHHS@ahrq.hhs.gov. AHRQ is listening. Let's keep the conversation going!
Gopal Khanna is the Director of AHRQ.