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AcademyHealth Annual Meeting: A Q&A with Lisa Simpson and David Colby

Jun 7, 2011, 4:26 PM, Posted by NewPublicHealth

file Lisa Simpson and David Colby

What's the latest in health services research and current health policy issues?

You'll be able to find out at the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting, which takes place June 12-14 in Seattle. The annual meeting has been the premiere forum for health services research for close to thirty years. Key topics this year include health reform and using social media to disseminate research.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Public Health Services Research Interest Group, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will be celebrating its tenth anniversary. Speakers include Debra Pérez, M.A., M.P.A., Ph.D., Interim Assistant Vice President for Research and Evaluation at the Foundation. You’ll be able to follow coverage of the conference here on NewPublicHealth.org.

In advanceof the Annual Research Meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Lisa Simpson, M.B., B.Ch., M.P.H., president and CEO of AcademyHealth, and David Colby, Ph.D., vice president of Research and Evaluation at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

NPH: What are the key topics that will be discussed at the Annual Research Meeting?

Dr. Simpson: There is a rich set of presentations this year, as in other years. We’re lucky to receive terrific abstracts and presentations. One area where I’m particularly interested to hear and learn more is around what’s happening at the community level and the efforts on the ground to transform the delivery system. Some of those efforts are working very collaboratively with local public health and reaching beyond the traditional boundaries of medical care. For example, understanding how health information technology and different payment approaches are facilitating these newer organizational financing and collaborative models.

NewPublicHealth: From both your perspectives, can you talk about the intersection of health services research and public health services research?

Dr. Simpson: This is the tenth anniversary of the annual meeting of our Public Health Services Research Interest Group and we are reflecting on the progress we’re making in this field, how much public health services research is part of the family of health services research and how integral it is to advancing health. We have to have evidence to improve the delivery of care and the prevention agenda for population health. That’s where I think the future is going. I would also comment that increasingly we’re seeing alignments and recognition within the more traditional medical care delivery system of the need to focus on population health and the need for partnership and even more collaboration between the health system and the public health system.

Dr. Colby: Health services research is a young field and it’s a field that is interdisciplinary. So the boundaries around health services research are more like a fuzzy set than a brick wall. We have a strong tradition of looking at delivery, quality, and access in the medical care system. Yet the goal of many members of AcademyHealth, as expressed by David Kindig, M.D., the former chair, is to study how to maximize the health of individuals and the health of populations. The AcademyHealth board adopted a definition of health services research which included the impacts of social effects and personal behaviors on health and well-being. This means that research needs to focus on all the inputs into health from the health care system, personal behavior and characteristics, and the environment. There is a recognition that you have to take into account all of these things to influence people’s health.

Dr. Simpson: I agree with David. As a pediatrician we especially focus on factors outside of medical care and the health of children in particular is so dependent on that multidisciplinary approach to understand what works to maximize and optimize health outcomes for children and their families and their communities. There really are those fuzzy boundaries.

NPH: What is the conversation that needs to take place between health services delivery and public health?

Dr. Colby: Articles written in the early 1990s showed the most important inputs into the health of the public are not from the medical care system. If we want to improve the health of Americans, we have to be working on those areas that will produce the most leverage, and that is improving where people live, learn, work and play.

Dr. Simpson: As we think about public health, increasingly I think that we understand that what contributes to the health of the public goes well beyond public health departments or what is traditionally thought of as the institutions of public health. We’re seeing employers having a dramatic stake in public health, promoting employee wellness and health promotion and disease prevention. We’re seeing the health care delivery system moving more and more toward health as part of the triple aim which focuses on improving population health, the patient experience of care and cost. It is about how communities exist and structure their community institutions well beyond public health and health delivery--from transportation to food, the environment and the built environment--all of these contribute to achieving the health of the public--and so health services research is expanding its methods, approaches and data sets to bring in information that captures the dynamics and influences on the child, the family, the community. In that way, we are better able to tease out and understand the policy levers and the interventions that can optimize health outcomes.

Dr. Colby: One example is that the Federal Reserve became very interested in the impact of community development on the health of Americans. They have held several conferences around the country about the interface between what they do in housing and other policies and the health of Americans.

NPH: What do you think the Federal Reserve’s contribution can be that another entity might not be able to contribute?

Dr. Colby: When the Federal Reserve starts talking about health issues, it’s a ‘wow.’ The Fed controls significant amount of money that can be used to improve the health of Americans. Where and how you build houses, parks, sidewalks, and grocery stores will have an impact on health of Americans.

NPH: There are two sessions at the annual meeting that are devoted to helping researchers disseminate their findings. Are researchers finding it more or less difficult to get their information out to the stake-holders that need it and then make its way to the field?

Dr. Simpson: I think the answer is, like so many things in health policy, it depends. Our field is growing and vibrant. Our membership is at the highest point ever, almost 4,500, and we represent a very diverse field.

I think that there are many journal opportunities, and depending on which journal you’re working with, the competition and the difficulty in getting your work published in an academic journal varies tremendously--as might the delay in publication between when you have your findings and when it actually appears online. But I think that increasingly, researchers are recognizing that there need to be, and there are, many other venues for getting their findings into the hands of the decision makers who need evidence.At the same time, journals are moving toward more timely reviews and expedited online publishing.

There are also many other ways that researchers have been working increasingly to get their evidence into action--and we support a number of those methods. For example, learning networks where we identify a policy need and researchers and experts who have been publishing and working in that area and we bring them together. These networks create an opportunity for a researcher to very directly inform policymakers about their area of expertise and passion. Another example is the HCFO--Health Care Financing and Organization--a program of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation managed by AcademyHealth. As the national program office for HCFO, we bring researchers together with their targeted users and audiences in small, focused discussions where you can really delve deeply into what is known and what is not. These sessions not only get information to the user more quickly, they actually help the researchers better understand what evidence is most needed. So, together with our members, we are really looking in very different ways to achieve our goal of moving knowledge into action.

NPH: Canyou talk about the impact of social media on evidence dissemination?

Dr. Colby: Health services researchers have to get used to social media for three separate purposes. One purpose is getting information out to people. Reporters follow tweets and that’s where they pick up some emerging stories. Obviously, the reporters will call up and get more in-depth information beyond 140 characters but Twitter provides the lead.

Another purpose is that social media tools are going to provide data for health systems researchers. For example, a project that we funded published an article on following tweets to figure out the impact of certain diseases, and an earlier article we funded used Google searches to show the spread of a disease. These studies represent a new epidemiology, which lets you know what’s going on before you get the official records.

Finally, I think that these social media tools are going to be very important in helping people improve their health. You could have an app on your phone that reminds you that you have to do specific things on a daily basis to improve your health.

Dr. Simpson: To build on what David has said, we see social media as the newest tool in our tool kit to support our mission of moving knowledge into action. I think there is enormous potential for the field to embrace these technologies and push them even further. In fact, one of the things that we’re announcing next week at an Institute of Medicine meeting around newly available data, and also at the Annual Research Meeting, is the REACH--Relevant Evidence to Advance Care and Health--Challenge. The REACH Challenge, which we are sponsoring in partnership with Health 2.0, offers a prize of $5,000 to a team of researchers, developers and other specialists who takes evidence-based research and data and translates them into an application that advances health and care.

This is really the future. Apps and social media are clearly an exciting new strategy for evidence dissemination and a new way to reach the audiences we need to target.

AcademyHealth has focused a lot more on social media in the last couple of years. You can follow us on Twitter, at @academyhealth or with the hashtag #ARM11 for the annual research meeting. We also have a blog at blog.academyhealth.org. And also new this year at the Annual Research Meeting is what I call "American Idol meets AcademyHealth," where we’re asking people at the meeting to choose their favorite poster presentation for inclusion in a first-ever “virtual poster session” by texting their vote to us. So we’re really trying to expand our approach and the various methods we use to engage our various audiences. At its core, it’s about matching up the content and the evidence with the medium and the messenger and the audience, and aligning all of these points so you’re delivering the right information in the right way to the right customer at the right time.

NPH: Will you both be tweeting at the meeting?

Dr. Simpson: David will be tweeting and I’m going to start learning how to tweet at the meeting!

Read previous NewPublicHealth.org Q&As with newsmakers and difference makers in public health.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.