About Priority Populations
The Healthcare Research and Quality Act of 1999 (Public Law 106-129) established an Office of Priority Populations within the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) to conduct and support research and evaluation, and support demonstration projects with respect to:
- The delivery of healthcare within inner cities and rural areas; and
- Healthcare for priority populations, which include:
On May 18, 2021, AHRQ released an updated Policy on the Inclusion of Priority Populations in Research (NOT-HS-21-015), which expanded the definition of priority populations to include those groups identified in Section 2(a) of Executive Order 13985 as members of underserved communities: Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.
The policy requires that priority populations be included in all AHRQ-supported research projects involving human subjects, unless a clear and compelling rationale and justification is provided that inclusion is inappropriate. AHRQ emphasizes and encourages research on priority populations; however, research results lag in their ability to identify evidence-based solutions to improving healthcare safety, quality, efficiency, and effectiveness.
Situated within the Office of Extramural Research, Education, and Priority Populations, the Division of Priority Populations (DPP) coordinates, supports, manages, and conducts health services research on priority populations. Specifically, the Division:
- Advises the Agency leadership on matters pertaining to the health needs and health care of priority populations, including scientific, ethical, legal, and policy issues.
- Serves as an expert resource within the Agency on priority populations to assist program development, and participates in the development of policies and programs to implement the Agency's priority populations agenda.
- Conducts research including leading analytic projects focused on examining research questions related to the health care of priority populations.
- Fosters new knowledge, tools, and training related to priority populations by recommending, leading, coordinating, and conducting new initiatives.
- Assists in the development, dissemination, and application of Agency initiatives and programs to improve health care for priority populations.
- Provides national expertise to Agency staff and Agency partners on priority populations issues, establishing and maintaining liaisons with other knowledgeable or concerned agencies, governments, and organizations.
With AHRQ's longstanding goal of promoting health equity, the Agency engages in a variety of activities aiming to address health and health disparities and to improve the health of priority populations, including:
- Collecting racial and ethnic data in its major research data programs (e.g., Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey), which allows AHRQ's researchers and others in the health services research field to conduct disparities research and assess interventions to reduce disparities.
- Producing the annual National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report, which provides a nationally representative, comprehensive assessment of over 700 health and healthcare measures indicating where health disparities exist.
- Participating on numerous HHS and non-Federal workgroups and committees working to reduce disparities, improve data for measuring and tracking disparities, and identify and promote interventions across a variety of healthcare settings to reduce disparities.
- Developing the evidence for interventions to reduce disparities and facilitating the use of those interventions in the U.S. healthcare system.
- Awarding a continuous stream of research grants to external researchers that focus on racial and ethnic health disparities, such as:
- A Clinical Trial to Validate an Automated Online Language Interpreting Tool With Hispanic Patients Who Have Limited English Proficiency (ongoing).
- The Northwestern Center of Excellence for Clinical Preventive Services work to develop and test interventions and patient education materials to reduce disparities in clinical preventive services by focusing on health literacy, health communication, quality improvement methods, and health information technology.