Ensuring that everyone receives the right care, at the right time, every time is an overarching goal for US health care delivery. One way the federal government supports this goal is through the activities of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). AHRQ funds research that assesses different health care delivery approaches, identifies best practices, and develops and then promotes tools, frameworks, and other resources that help health care organizations improve the care that each patient receives. Thanks to AHRQ’s work, more than 1.3 million medical errors have been prevented, saving more than 50,000 lives.
As Congressional leaders debate federal spending priorities, some legislators have proposed eliminating funding for AHRQ. However, at Kaiser Permanente, we believe that AHRQ plays a critical role in safeguarding and improving the nation’s health.
AHRQ develops knowledge, tools, and data to improve the safety and quality of health care throughout the United States. In contrast to federal agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health that promote public health or provide funding for research on specific diseases, conditions, or body systems, AHRQ funds research on health care delivery. AHRQ’s work helps health care organizations understand best practices and implementation steps to improve the safety and quality of health care delivery in concrete, actionable ways.
Over the years, Kaiser Permanente has partnered with AHRQ and used AHRQ tools to improve care. A few examples:
- Evaluating and Sharing Evidence-Based Best Practices: AHRQ has designated 9 official evidence-based practice centers across the country, including the Kaiser Permanente Evidence-Based Practice Center, to review and assess scientific evidence and produce reports on topics relevant to health care services and primary care delivery. Past reports have focused on topics such as asthma interventions, cancer screening, cardiovascular disease prevention, cognitive impairment screening in older adults, and tobacco cessation. These reports are used by clinicians, researchers, policymakers, and patients to incorporate validated best practices into health care decision-making. The reports are based on systematic reviews, comparative effectiveness reviews, technical briefs, technology assessments, modeling, and decision-analyses.
- Conducting Research to Identify Best Practices: With AHRQ support, Kaiser Permanente researchers have investigated ways to reduce fall risks for older adults, and approaches to provide care for unhealthy alcohol use. We’ve used AHRQ support to identify trends in asthma hospitalizations and outpatient visits to improve outcomes, and we’ve studied barriers to web-based health portal use among diverse patients. We’ve also developed tools to improve cancer treatment approaches, and we’ve conducted large-scale comparative effectiveness research and clinical trials across multiple health systems to better understand which treatments work best.
- Understanding Consumer Experiences: Many health systems, including Kaiser Permanente, use AHRQ’s Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS) to gather information on patients’ health care experiences across different care settings. AHRQ supports the development of multiple evidence-based consumer surveys and provides survey administration and analysis advice for teams who want to use these tools. Health systems use the surveys to understand their patients’ experiences and improve consumers’ care.
- Improving Care Quality: AHRQ produces additional tools to help clinicians and health systems improve their performance, based on the most current health services research and recommendations. For example, to identify and implement care quality improvement strategies, Kaiser Permanente has used AHRQ’s TeamSTEPPS, a customizable program to help health care teams optimize their performance. In Northern California, the TeamSTEPPS approach helped Kaiser Permanente teams make improvements that reduced the dosage of labor-inducing drugs by around 15% without increasing C-section rates.
- Using Frameworks to Inspire Change: AHRQ also supports the development of frameworks to improve patient safety and health care delivery. For example, with support from AHRQ and other agencies and groups, the National Academy of Medicine published Improving Diagnosis in Health Care and Implementing High-Quality Primary Care. These reports inspire and influence the work of health care organizations across the country, including Kaiser Permanente.
AHRQ plays a critical role in improving health care quality and access, reducing medical errors, improving patient safety, reducing costs, and making care more equitable. We hope that Congressional leaders will recognize the value of AHRQ-funded research, best practice guidelines, and care quality improvement tools. AHRQ’s vital work helps improve the likelihood that every patient receives the best possible care – a worthwhile and strategic investment that benefits us all.