NLM Delivers for Health Services Research

hundreds of people form the shape of the cross used to symbolize health care

How are we as a country doing in our delivery of health care?

Even if you’re happy with your access to medical care and the work of your doctor’s office or local hospital, I bet you would also acknowledge there’s significant room for improvement in the system overall.

Studying health care systems and policies and finding ways to improve them falls within the field known as health services research. Exceedingly multidisciplinary, health services research draws from medicine, public health, and an array of social sciences, including economics, political science, and psychology, to name but a few. This unique scientific community leverages the findings from basic and clinical research studies to uncover new ways to invest in and support health care—to make it safer and improve quality.

I’ve spent the last few days with members of this community at the  AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting, and it has been a tremendous experience.

Given the multifaceted and interdisciplinary nature of health services research, conference sessions have run the gamut from Medicaid dental benefits to physician work experience, from patient safety to health economics. Other sessions—such as those on patient-centered care, electronic health records, health IT, and big data—have offered fresh perspectives on issues I’ve been wrestling with for a while.

Regardless of the topic, all the sessions I’ve attended—along with those I’ve been following virtually on Twitter (#ARM18)—have underscored for me the importance of a robust and responsive NLM to health services research.

NLM’s work to accelerate scientific discovery through data, while not targeting health services researchers specifically, will certainly help their efforts. But beyond those broad initiatives, we also have a few things just for them.

Tops on the list: the National Center for Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR), which is housed here at NLM. Created by Congress in 1993, NICHSR (pronounced “nik-H-S-R”) is tasked with improving the collection, storage, analysis, retrieval, and dissemination of health services research. Its website and databases deliver curated information on key topics related to health services research, along with health statistics, community resources, and training opportunities.

As part of encouraging the next generation of health services researchers, NICHSR recently hosted the second annual HSRProj Research Competition. This competition invites students to use data from the Health Services Research Projects in Progress (HSRProj) database, in conjunction with other sources, to identify research gaps in health services and systems research. The winners —Julia Burgdorf, Sarah Gensheimer, and Zachary Predmore, all of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health—were acknowledged at the AcademyHealth meeting.

NLM also supports research training in biomedical informatics and data science at sixteen universities across the US. These graduate and postdoctoral programs cover a range of specialties that include health care and public health informatics, training researchers to tackle some of the biggest challenges within the health care system.

We’re going to need them.

The health care system is changing, moving—we hope—toward something that is safer, more effective, more efficient, and more accessible for all. NLM is here to support that.

What would most help you in your health services research?

Author: Patti Brennan

Director, US National Library of Medicine

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