Keeping AHRQ’s Focus on Patients in a Rapidly Evolving Digital World

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

As my colleagues and I come to work each day, we are keenly aware that all of our efforts are ultimately aimed at serving the needs of a single customer: the patient.

We focus on this objective knowing that we are living in a time of unprecedented complexity. It is an era characterized by significant—and healthy—disruptions in the increasingly digital health care landscape. The pace of the technology-driven change is staggering.

Innovation is occurring in numerous areas. We marvel at the countless advances in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Technological innovations have led to a wave of growth in outpatient care. More and more consumers are receiving services from consolidated health systems.

These and other changes are unfolding while many aspects of our lives, including our health care, are being measured and expressed through data—the “digitization of everything.” And so, our challenge is clear: in the Digital Age, how can AHRQ apply its unique assets to make health care as effective, high quality, and safe as possible? What can we do to support health care that delivers maximum value to patients and their families?

We are thinking ambitiously about AHRQ’s potential to catalyze change. I envision the Agency leading the journey to an era in which health care has been revolutionized by our ability to harness digital information and provide vastly more meaningful profiles of patients and their needs.

Imagine, for instance, the fictional case of “Brian,” a 52-year-old landscaper who is rushed to his local hospital with breathing problems so severe he is barely able to speak. In yesterday’s world, emergency department (ED) teams would start from scratch; they’d have to first learn about Brian’s medical history, his employment status, or his living circumstances.

But in tomorrow’s world, with patient profiles assembled through the appropriate collection of digital information, Brian’s ED team might quickly learn that his medical history includes asthma. They might also learn that his employment history includes exposure to environmental hazards, and that he’s overdue for renewing his asthma medication.

Consumers, as well, will benefit from new streams of information. The watch on his wrist or the phone in his back pocket may help Brian manage his health by providing access to data about his medical history or provide updates about his efforts to achieve personal wellness goals.

This case is hypothetical. But I offer it as a way to help articulate my vision for a future that embraces the huge promise of digital health research and practice.

We pursue these goals with many stakeholders in mind. My team and I understand the results of our work must be relevant—to doctors, nurses, and other professionals who provide everyday care; to C-suite executives, hospital administrators, and health system leaders who seek to apply the most promising innovations; and to health services researchers, who help identify and tackle our most pressing challenges. And, of course, AHRQ’s efforts must ultimately benefit patients, who deserve the highest value care.

Progress is occurring. But we must accelerate our achievements. Our priority now is identifying the gaps in health care delivery that are blocking further success. I hope you’ll be watching for my next AHRQ Views blog post, in which I’ll say more about AHRQ’s strategies to identify and address these unmet needs.

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