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AHRQ, PCORI to Fund Learning Health System Research Training Programs

September 9, 2017
by David Raths
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Grants to fund as many as 10 Centers of Excellence, Learning Collaborative

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), in partnership with the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), plans to award up to $8 million in grants to create as many as 10 career development programs to build a “learning health system” research workforce.

The federal agency said the grant winners would be expected to prepare newly trained clinician and research scientists for independent research careers and equip scholars to advance the field through their training and scholarship as the next generation of learning health system researchers.

AHRQ notes that the learning health system is a new and rapidly evolving conceptual approach in which science (generated from health services research (HSR), patient-centered outcomes research (PCOR), and clinical research), informatics, incentives, and culture are aligned for continuous improvement and innovation, with best practices seamlessly embedded in the care process, in which stakeholders providers, patients and families) are active participants in all elements, and new knowledge is captured as an integral byproduct of the care experience

The program objectives are to:

• Develop and implement a training program that includes both didactic and experiential learning and embeds the scholars at the interface of research, informatics, and clinical operations within learning health systems;

• Identify, recruit, and train clinician and research scientists who are committed to conducting patient-centered outcome research in healthcare settings that generate new evidence to facilitate rapid implementation that will improve quality of care and patient outcomes;

• Establish Centers of Excellence in Learning Health System Research Training focusing on the application and mastery of the newly developed core LHS researcher competencies; and

• Support a Learning Collaborative across funded Centers of Excellence in LHS Research Training to promote cross institutional scholar-mentor interactions, cooperation on multi-site projects, dissemination of project findings, methodological advances, and the development of a shared curriculum.

The Learning Collaborative will be facilitated by AHRQ in collaboration with PCORI and will focus on improving understanding of best practices for training in a learning health system and will be performed through a collaborative model (within and between institutions). Further, the collaborative will serve as a national forum to promote cross-institutional scholar-mentor interactions, cooperation on multi-site projects, dissemination of project findings, methodological advances, and the development of a shared curriculum that can in time be delivered online. The online, shared curriculum should result in a comprehensive and efficient training model within the participating institutions and expand the reach of the program to other health systems.

AHRQ noted that current health services research and clinical research training programs are focused largely on supporting knowledge generation but do not specifically support the conduct of research within learning healthcare systems that take advantage of clinical data resources available there. Moreover, current training programs do not support the growing need for researchers trained and prepared to conduct rapid and continuous learning and translation of findings into patient-centered care, it said.

AHRQ worked with experts to develop a new framework and set of core competencies (see www.ahrq.gov/LHStrainingcompetencies) for training a new generation of learning health system researchers. The new competencies address the unique training needs of investigators leading efforts within a learning health system to transform care delivery. The competencies also underscore the value of including patients and other stakeholders in systems and comparative effectiveness research studies by ensuring that end users have a hand in shaping the questions and outcomes to assure their relevance.

Applicants must be academic institutions with a track record of excellence in training clinical research scientists to work within healthcare delivery systems or from healthcare delivery systems with a track record of excellence in training researchers and conducting system-based research aimed at improving clinical treatment and/or health care delivery.

Applicants must establish collaborative relationships with at least one health system. Systems that lead or participate in a PCORnet Clinical Data Research Network (CDRN) could discuss whether and how clinical data could be linked to the common data model format. Affiliation with PCORnet is not a requirement. Similarly, non-academic health systems may apply but would be expected to partner with an academic institution in providing formal, educational training needs. 

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