AHRQ Views

Blog posts from AHRQ leaders

David MeyersAs someone with diverse experience in the private sector, AHRQ Director Gopal Khanna brings to his work the perspective of the business world.  He understands that a business that operates the same next year as it does today will quickly be replaced in the market.  The lesson is clear: Innovative corporations invest in learning.

At AHRQ, we believe that in order to provide high-quality, safe, and high-value care, healthcare delivery organizations must adopt this orientation. Learning health systems (LHS) systematically integrate insights from internal data generated from providing care, along with new findings from clinical and health systems research, and continuously put this knowledge into practice.  A learning health system’s care is better tomorrow because the organization learns from the experience of today.

The incentives for developing systems that continuously learn are clear.  Patients get better and safer care, the value of care increases, and clinical organizations become better places to work.  

The learning health system provides a single model that encapsulates AHRQ’s aim, mission, and future vision (read more about these in Mr. Khanna’s recent blog post).  All of AHRQ’s core competencies—health systems research, practice improvement, and data and analytics—contribute to making the LHS possible.  These competencies are why AHRQ has been a champion of the learning health system movement for some time. 

At our LHS summit, we heard from the field that C-suite leaders were eager for case examples that laid out the motivation behind their peers’ LHS journeys. They wanted to better understand the path to growing into a LHS.  Responding to this request, AHRQ went into the field and interviewed a number of healthcare systems about their work to become a LHS.  We have compiled the stories of four very different systems in a series of case studies:

  • University of Utah is a large, academic health system with multiple hospitals and a service area that encompasses five States.
  • Hospital Corporation of America, a for-profit system, is one of the largest health systems in the United States.
  • Denver Health provides comprehensive health care to over 25% of the city’s population with a strong commitment to serving the underserved.
  • Baylor Scott & White was formed from the merger of a large academic health system with a large community health system, resulting in the largest non-profit health care system in Texas.

Despite their different sizes, organizational structures, and journeys into learning, we were able to trace their innovations in three key areas that emerged as central to driving progress:  data, workforce, and culture.  AHRQ is highlighting the impressive gains made by these organizations, because they have both diverse and replicable stories to tell. The leaders of these four systems have invested in staff and data resources in ways that allow them to adopt evidence to continuously improve the quality, safety, and value of the care they provide.  And this of course leads to our aim at AHRQ—improving the lives of patients. 

In addition to these case studies, today we have posted a new report based on additional site visits that proposes a taxonomy of how delivery systems approach evidence. The resource, How Learning Health Systems Learn: Lessons from the Field, shows that many paths forward exist to becoming a system that learns, and that opportunities to grow are available even for mature LHS.  Our hope is that this framework and examples will help spark conversations among CEOs, COOs, CIOs, CMOs, CNOs, CFOs and their colleagues inside and outside of the C-Suite. 

As a way to support both fledgling and more established learning health systems, AHRQ has launched a new online resource that pulls together the resources cited above along with access to AHRQ research, training, tools, and data that can be used to advance learning among systems of every size.

While AHRQ continues conducting important health systems research on the most pressing challenges in care delivery, and while we continue developing tools, training, data, and analytic resources to help translate new evidence into practice, we understand that advances in care delivery must also be discovered, developed, adapted, and implemented at the local level.  We invite healthcare delivery systems, from independent physician offices to large, integrated systems, to partner with us to expand a culture of learning in which we all use data and evidence to revolutionize healthcare outcomes in our communities.

David Meyers is AHRQ’s Chief Physician.


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Page last reviewed May 2019
Page originally created May 2019
Internet Citation: Promoting Change Through Learning: AHRQ Builds Momentum for Learning Health Systems. Content last reviewed May 2019. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. https://www.ahrq.gov/news/blog/ahrqviews/promoting-change-through-learning.html
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