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In Defense of AHRQ

July 20, 2012
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Why defunding it makes no sense

There is a battle going on in the nation’s capital over the highly controversial Affordable Care Act, and one of the casualties could be the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) if some congressmen in Washington D.C. get their way. Recently, the House Appropriations Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services subcommittee voted through a bill that would cut $1.3 billion in funding for the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), as well as abolish AHRQ in its entirety. The full story is right here on HCI.

From what I’ve read, the bill will go to the Senate, where many experts have speculated that it will get shot down. To be honest, I have no idea if this is true or not, but that’s besides my point. The fact that it has gotten this far is, in a word: crazy.

This isn’t a political blog by any means, because in my eyes it doesn’t matter if it’s Republicans, Democrats, independents, anarchists, or a combination of all the above, who are proposing to cut AHRQ. This is simply a defense of AHRQ, which I believe is one of the more important research agencies to the healthcare community.

AHRQ doesn’t need me to come to its defense; the agency’s work speaks for itself. The 23-year old agency, with approximately 300 staff members, is leading the way in funding countless projects that aim to improve preventive care in America.

Just as an example, if you want to see what AHRQ is doing in my home state of Massachusetts alone for health IT, a simple search on the AHRQ website reveals 42 separate funded projects aimed at improving the quality of healthcare. For instance, there is a project that aims to develop and test a computer-based patient simulation or Virtual Patient (VP); there is one that takes a comprehensive approach to studying adoption of personal health records (PHRs); and there is one aims to develop and evaluate an electronic medical record-base medication reconciliation system.

I could go on and on. That is one state and one specific area. AHRQ is funding these types of projects across the country, in hospitals, healthcare systems, health departments, etc. Pretty much everyone you can think of imaginable has some kind of integral AHRQ research tied to it.

In addition, the agency provides valuable resources for patients, providers, researchers, policymakers, and payers. Just recently, the organization released an interactive handbook on preventive health record implementation for primary care practice personnel (e.g., office managers, clinicians, and nurses), IT implementation practice leaders, and practice informatics staff. The overall goal is to launch a PHR, implement it to an EHR, and get people to engage in it. We all know how important this kind of information is for many providers.

It’s been said countless times before, but I’ll say it again: we are at a tipping point in the way healthcare is delivered in this country. Numerous industry leaders told me, in lieu of the ACA Supreme Court decision, this is happening with or without the major legislation. The move to an efficient, evidence-based, fee-for-service model, which eliminates waste, saves costs, and improves outcomes needs to get here in order for us to  improve the system. Research like this goes a long way in helping everyone figure it out.

Think about this: the nation spent $2.6 trillion on healthcare in 2010, according to  AHRQ’s budget that same year was $372 million, essentially a tiny fraction of that overall cost. Does it make any sense to get rid of an organization whose sole purpose is figuring how to reduce those bloated costs as well as efficient patient outcomes with detailed research projects?

To me, the answer is obvious.