Keeneland 2013 Q&A: Lisa Simpson

Apr 9, 2013, 10:04 AM

Lisa Simpson Lisa Simpson, president and CEO of AcademyHealth

Later today Lisa Simpson, MB, BCh, MPH, president and CEO of AcademyHealth, will moderate a “Washington Update” panel discussion at the sixth annual Keeneland Conference taking place this week in Lexington, Ky. The discussion will focus on issues to watch at the federal level and panelists include Paul Jarris, MD, MBA, Executive Director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials; Jeff Levi, PhD, Executive Director of Trust for America's Health; and Robert Pestronk, MPH, Executive Director of the National Association of County and City Health Officials.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Simpson ahead of the session.

NewPublicHealth: What will your “Washington Update” focus on?

Dr. Simpson: I have the good fortune of moderating a discussion with three important leaders from Washington—Jeff Levi, Paul Jarris and Bobby Pestronk—and we’ll be bringing an update about what is going on in Washington that affects the field of public health and public health services research (PHSR) specifically. We’re going to be talking about the general policy context and the conversation in Washington in terms of budget and priority and tradeoff, but also talking about how we think public health services research is informing the conversation and the kinds of questions that policymakers have.

NPH: How has public health services research evolved in the last few years in terms of informing the conversation? 

Dr. Simpson: I think PHSR is still a young discipline, and so a lot of work in Washington, working with the National Coordinating Center, is about educating policymakers that there is this type of research. When I have meetings at the federal, Congressional and agency level, there is great interest in knowing that there is this type of research and a huge appetite for answers because there are a lot of tough choices that folks are having to make in the current budget situation. The kinds of information that PHSR is generating I think is exactly what they’re looking for.

They’re asking especially for information on outcomes. There is research on the structures of public health, research on the processes of public health, and while those are important, we’re hearing that there’s a great need for more research on the outcomes. So when one does change public health services and systems, what is the impact on outcomes? How does it affect the communities and the populations that live in those communities?

NPH: And what are some new avenues that you think are important for disseminating the data stakeholders are looking for? 

Dr. Simpson: We need to be more effective in getting the evidence and the research into the hands of the decision makers at the time that they need it, and that has been an enduring challenge for our field. We are seeing innovations in dissemination that I think is helping investigators think in different ways. I think that having peer review is still a dominant incentive in academic settings so having additional outlets for peer review, or investigators is critical, and having that outlet be timelier, like Frontiers, [a free, online, peer-reviewed journal launched last year by the Coordinating Center, meant to provide early, quick looks at research as it emerges] is also important. 

There’s another new peer reviewed, online and open access journal like Frontiers, that AcademyHealth has launched, which is called eGEMs. We like to say is that this journal is about the journey of research, not the destination. It’s a journal that really is seeking to publish articles about how the research was done and what was learned about doing the research. Because public health services research is a young field, we need to share with each other our approaches to the research and what we’ve learned about the data we use, the methods we use, so that’s another good opportunity to both have peer review, but for it to be open access and for it to be rapidly disseminated.

I want to add that we see blog, especially since you’re doing this interview for a blog, as a new way of disseminating research findings. AcademyHealth has launched the Translation and Dissemination Institute—an incubator for new and innovative approaches to moving knowledge into action, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Kaiser Permanente as well as our Board of Directors investment of organization research. One of the things we’re doing is partnering with The Incidental Economist, which is a very well recognized and read blog, [read a NewPublicHealth interview with Incidental Economist lead blogger Austin Frakt] and because it’s a place where the bloggers pick up on a timely policy and discuss the evidence behind the debate. And we’re seeing a tremendous uptick in traffic to our blog, as are other well-respected journals including JAMA, Health Affairs and the New England Journal of Medicine.

Blogs provide a very timely outlet and we’re very interested in seeing blogs that talk about timely, current policy issues and discuss the issue and bring to bear the evidence that is out there. It’s an important way to connect to decision makers with a quick overview, quick summaries of key points of evidence, which I think is a really critical function.

So, the point of our new strategy for dissemination is really to meet the user where they are and at the time that they need information as opposed to working in the traditional model of academic publishing, which is when the results are ready, you try to push them out. I think this is a big new opportunity for the investigator community to try to get to their decision maker audience more quickly. 

NPH: Where do you see the field of public health services research headed?

Dr. Simpson: The next five years are going to see tremendous change in the delivery of public health services because of the implementation of the Affordable Care Act and the real transformation in how communities organize their health care delivery and their public health services systems. So public health services research has a tremendous opportunity to inform that change and that transformation, which is going to vary across this country. And what people need to understand is the difference systems make to the community. Current questions include:

  • What is the outcome of the way we transform our delivery of public health services?
  • How can we connect public health services back to health care services as well so that we have overall health systems in our communities?

Policy makers want to understand outcomes and as they face difficult choices driven by budget constraints, they want to know how to make a choice that continues to improve the health of individuals and populations but helps us get the most value out of the investment. Policymakers are very much focused on outcomes and costs, and that’s where I think our field needs to move even more. And public health services research has to continue to focus on the return on investment in public health services. What difference does it make in terms of what kinds of outcomes? 

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