AHRQ in 2018: Laying Essential Groundwork for Improved Healthcare Quality, Better Value

By Gopal Khanna, M.B.A., Director of AHRQ
Twitter: @AHRQNews

When I look ahead to 2019, I have no doubt that AHRQ will continue to identify and tackle some of the most pressing challenges in healthcare. We’re poised to contribute even more to helping the Nation’s healthcare systems and providers improve patients’ lives and the quality, safety, and value of healthcare services they receive.

But as we look forward, I believe it’s also important to reflect on the remarkable achievements of 2018. Once again, the Agency has devoted significant energy to support priorities outlined by HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar. Our work has cut an impressive path toward better health care quality and value through its support of research, practice improvement, and greater use of data and analytics. Allow me to share some highlights:

Battling the Opioids Crisis

  • AHRQ’s efforts to stem the epidemic were underscored when we highlighted funding available for new research to improve pain management, prevent opioid abuse and overdoses, and support better opioid abuse treatment and recovery. Those efforts align with the Agency’s ongoing $12 million investments in grants to help provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to an estimated 20,000 people struggling with addiction in rural areas.
  • Our data experts, meanwhile, published a half-dozen statistical analyses to measure the crisis’ scope. New interactive heat maps provide State rates of opioid-related hospitalizations and emergency department visits, as well as demographics on age, sex, and income. County-level hospitalization rates are available for 32 States. These resources are helping public health experts pinpoint areas of top concern and formulate plans to battle the epidemic.
  • New clinical tools supported by AHRQ include “Six Building Blocks,” a team approach for primary care providers and staff to improve management of patients on chronic opioid therapy. Additional tools are available via the AHRQ Academy, which works to expand the integration of behavioral health care and primary care, as well as supports efforts to implement MAT in primary care.

Leveraging the Power of Data

  • In August, AHRQ launched the AHRQ Step Up App Challenge, a three-phase competition to address the need for greater use of standardized patient-reported outcomes (PRO) data. More than 50 competitors are vying to develop a user-friendly app that can improve the collection of PRO data and, as a result, amplify patients’ voices so that clinicians have a fuller view of patient needs.
  • New data in AHRQ’s Compendium of U.S. Health Systems allows researchers, policymakers, and others to assess how the Nation’s 6,726 hospitals are organized and owned according to 626 health systems. Users can link to additional data sources and explore characteristics of the systems and their hospitals, such as cost and quality of care. The compendium—the first publicly available digital snapshot of America’s health systems—was developed by AHRQ’s Comparative Health System Performance Initiative.

Improving Patient Safety and Quality of Care

  • AHRQ’s annual National Scorecard on Hospital-Acquired Conditions showed continued progress in improving patient safety, a signal that initiatives led by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and others are helping to make care safer. Efforts to reduce hospital-acquired conditions, such as adverse drug events and injuries from falls, helped prevent an estimated 8,000 deaths and saved $2.9 billion between 2014 and 2016. In the very near future, we expect to release updated data that show continued improvements.

Building Capacity for Change

  • AHRQ’s EvidenceNOW initiative has created a blueprint for primary care systems to improve patient-centered health care. Project grantees, known as cooperatives, have helped more than 1,500 small- and medium-sized practices increase the delivery of the ABCS of heart health—Aspirin use, Blood pressure control, Cholesterol screening, Smoking cessation—to more than 8 million patients. EvidenceNOW also developed Tools for Change, which offers an online repository of more than 100 tools and resources to increase the use of evidence and improve patient care.

These and other 2018 milestones are the result of the energetic teamwork that I see each day at AHRQ. It’s imperative, however, that we remain focused on new opportunities for even greater success. I’m pleased that the Agency’s deep reservoir of enthusiasm and commitment is already paving the way to exciting new projects in 2019.

For example, to tackle the ongoing problem of inefficient patient transfers between clinical settings, particularly between primary care and specialty practices, we’ll provide new funding opportunities for researchers to test promising digital health data and technology approaches aimed at improving communication and coordination.

In addition, AHRQ will develop a number of public competitions, or challenges, to identify untapped data sources that could be combined with AHRQ data to provide a fuller portrait of community-based factors that impact patient well-being.

As we leap into the New Year, my instructions to the AHRQ staff have been clear: Let’s keep up the good work that has yielded so much success in 2018. Let’s continue to support Secretary Azar’s focus on ending the opioids epidemic, lowering drugs prices, and bringing more value to American health care. And let’s build capacity whenever possible to accomplish even more.

I look forward to sharing AHRQ’s greatest hits of 2019 this time next year!

This article was originally published on AHRQ Views Blog and is republished here with permission.