Seven Ways For Health Services Research To Lead Health System Change

Joel Kupersmith and David Atkins | Health Affairs Blog | May 30, 2013

With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act now at hand — and with it, the formation of accountable care organizations (ACOs) — health services research (HSR) has an especially important role to play.  As ACOs take steps that will substantially change health care delivery, the ability to measure and improve health system performance and acquire this data efficiently will be in greater demand.  Is HSR up to the challenge?

As the “basic science” of the health care system, HSR focuses on access, cost, and quality. Health services researchers work to identify and assess vital signs of a well-functioning health care system and develop performance measures for examining system aspects.  They also seek to improve the system by identifying gaps in quality and then testing and disseminating solutions to those problems.  HSR’s goals and often its approaches are different from the development, testing, and translation of new drugs or other interventions.

But as we’ve seen all too frequently, the necessity of responding to ongoing change within the health system outpaces HSR’s ability to produce timely evidence.  As a result, large scale changes are sometimes instituted on the basis of imperfect evidence (e.g., tying financial incentives to measures of physician or hospital performance before studies are completed). [...]