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Patient-Centered Care Takes Center Stage in New Report from AHRQ’s Digital Healthcare Research Program
The goal of patient-centered care supported by digital healthcare tools is being realized today at an ever-faster pace. And as recent projects supported by AHRQ’s Digital Healthcare Research Program show, their benefits are extending to patients whose needs have often fallen through the cracks of our healthcare delivery system.
In the program’s newly released 2021 annual report, Improving Healthcare Through AHRQ’s Digital Healthcare Research, we highlight nearly 50 completed and ongoing projects that speak to digital healthcare technology’s growing promise for improving patient care.
In one AHRQ-funded investigation that sought more timely assessments of depression, for example, researchers found that patients screened for depression using a portal they could access at home showed higher rates of symptoms compared to patients who were screened at clinic appointments.
Encouraging patients to report their symptoms using an easy-to-access portal and an online questionnaire can be a game changer, according to principal investigator Neda Laitereerapong, M.D., associate professor of medicine at the University of Chicago, because it can increase the frequency of depression screening and help get individuals into treatment.
Depression often occurs along with anxiety and trauma, she points out, and makes it hard for some patients to actively seek care. “The people who come to see me in my clinic are not those I’m usually worried about. I’m worried about the people who don’t show up when they are scheduled, who cancel appointments.”
We’re excited to showcase the progress that these investments have had on behalf of the American public in the past year. In 2021, the Digital Healthcare Research Program supported 104 grants and nine research contracts at 64 institutions located in 23 States and the District of Columbia. Our 2021 investment in grants and contracts was $30 million. Our newly released report offers engaging, easy-to-read summaries of the impact of AHRQ-funded research in these key areas:
- Engaging and Empowering Patients.
- Optimizing Delivery for Clinicians.
- Supporting Care Systems in Advancing Care Delivery.
Our report describes 21 completed and 25 ongoing AHRQ-funded research projects. Completed projects include innovative efforts such as digital tools to better manage attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) among adolescents outside of medical appointments.
Psychologist Kimberley Lakes, Ph.D., and computer scientist Gillian Hayes, Ph.D., University of California, Riverside, and University of California, Irvine, teamed up to develop and test a wearable digital technology system consisting of a smartwatch, a mobile phone app, and a web portal. The system delivers self-regulating interventions to the youth wearing the device and to their parents. Drs. Lakes and Hayes sought input from adolescents as they tested the technology and incorporated features to support needed behavioral change. According to Dr. Lakes, the system helps adolescents understand what they need to manage their ADHD and the tools to help them achieve that.
Our report also highlights emerging research in AHRQ’s priority areas, notably the role of social determinants of health in access and outcomes. In this area, a team of researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis, led by Joshua Vest, Ph.D., is studying whether predictive modeling—utilizing data elements from electronic health records, health information exchanges, and State social service organizations—can identify and serve individuals with unmet social needs.
The goal, according to Dr. Vest, is to learn whether these models are more effective than self-administered questionnaires and then to create a clinical decision support tool that generates referrals for social and behavioral health providers. “Social determinants of health and unmet needs are really what drive health and complicate care,” he says. “We have to figure out who has those needs, how to address them, and how to best match resources [to meet them].”
In addition to these report highlights, we’ve shared findings of how digital healthcare technology can be used to engage patients and caregivers more fully in care decisions and actions. Studies in this year’s Research Spotlight span patient populations, care settings, and important moments in care, such as safely navigating hospital discharges.
We’re inspired by the many examples of how AHRQ’s digital healthcare research is transforming the promise of digital tools into real-world solutions. As always, we welcome your suggestions on how we can build on our momentum. Please contact us at DigitalHealthcareResearch@ahrq.hhs.gov.
Chris Dymek is director of AHRQ’s Digital Healthcare Research Program.