Using Health Outcomes Research to Improve Quality of Care

Health outcomes research will continue to provide a valuable methodology for clinicians to streamline their efforts and ensure that they—and their health systems—are meeting the demand for high value care.

There is growing pressure in health care to provide high quality, cost-effective, patient-centered care. Healthcare professionals are increasingly turning to health outcomes research for the evidence-based guidance they need to improve care. Clinicians and executives use this information to assess and improve their business performance or for insight into the most effective treatment options to consider for diverse populations with a range of diagnoses.

What is Health Outcomes Research?

Health outcomes research is a methodology used to identify and measure the link between treatments or interventions delivered and the actual outcomes achieved. Put simply, health outcomes studies help determine what works and what doesn’t in health care. Unlike clinical trials or other highly regulated scientific studies that consider only concrete, measurable data (such as mortality rates), health outcomes research takes a broader view to also incorporate clinical outcomes, financial impact, and a range of functional measures, including patients’ reported quality of life and satisfaction. The data gathered can come from a number of avenues and methodologies including from medical records, insurance databases, patient questionnaires, and more. By looking at a greater range of measures, health outcomes studies can provide guidance on a broader set of interventions and decisions than can clinical trials.

Who is Using Health Outcomes Research?

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is a federal agency that tracks health outcomes research through a number of initiatives, including through the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) and the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) as part of its widespread efforts to increase patient safety, decrease medical errors, and identify and address gaps in healthcare quality. The information it provides is used across the country to hold healthcare providers accountable for providing the highest quality care, ensuring cost containment, and achieving optimal outcomes.

AHRQ also works with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on the Medicare Health Outcomes Survey (HOS), which uses patient-reported information to monitor and assess the performance of its managed care plans and to identify and reward those that meet the highest standards.

How Is the Data Applied?

The data compiled by AHRQ, CMS, and others is regularly applied in a number of ways and settings. For instance, some regulating agencies are using outcome data to establish reimbursement structures that encourage collaboration and efficiency, as well as to provide a mechanism to identify successful programs and to share their lessons learned.

Health outcomes data is also being used to create measurement tools that can be used to provide a mechanism to compare different facilities and performance ratings. This makes it possible to identify areas of weakness in facilities, as well as to assess gaps in treatments or interventions being performed, and can help healthcare providers to address these issues and make necessary improvements.

There is growing pressure to provide high quality, cost-effective, patient-centered health care

As the health field continue to shift toward adopting a population health strategy that focuses on addressing the health needs and outcomes of specific populations, clinicians are also applying health outcomes data to identify those interventions that are most effective for specific conditions and populations so the lessons can be shared on a broader scale. For example, if you have a group of people living with both heart disease and diabetes and you add exercise to the treatment plan and this approach leads to optimal outcomes, this finding can inform clinicians to recommend a similar approach for other patients who meet the diagnostic criteria of co-existing diabetes and heart disease. By scaling the approach, it can have a broad impact on the greatest number of people.

Supporting Patient-Centered Care

Health outcomes research can also help to empower patients. For instance, cost and outcome data gathered on different clinicians, facilities, and interventions can help consumers to make educated decisions on who they want to perform their care, and in what setting, and which procedures they want to undergo. As patient satisfaction is becoming an increasingly important element in reimbursement structures, so is capturing the patient experience adequately and offering information patients can use to partner with medical providers to become more involved in their own care decisions.

Moving Forward

Many health systems today are effectively incorporating evidence-based findings, including health outcomes research, to direct their best practices and improve coordination among different providers, departments, and locations. Health outcomes research will continue to provide a valuable methodology for clinicians to streamline their efforts and ensure that they—and their health systems—are meeting regulatory requirements and the demand for high value care.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers Measurement, Design, and Analysis Methods for Health Outcomes Research, an introductory course in health outcomes research. To learn more about this opportunity, click here.