In Tight Times, Keep Your Head in the Game

By Emily Holubowich, Senior Vice President, CRD & Lindsey Horan, AcademyHealth

In this complex budgetary and political environment, it is easy to lose hope. Hyper partisanship has stunted the legislative and appropriations processes. Policymakers’ misplaced obsession with austerity has flatlined our economy, with no room for growth over the next decade. Moderate lawmakers are leaving Congress in droves.

It’s certainly understandable if you feel your advocacy efforts are in vain. You may even find yourself asking, “Will this ever make any difference?”

(Or maybe even, “Should I move to Canada?”)

Hard as it may be to muster the strength to press onward, it is during these times of gridlock that organizations must double their efforts to educate policymakers, the media, and the public. Without an aggressive and persistent drumbeat, your priorities are sure to fall by the wayside. As the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.”

CRD Associates’ longstanding client AcademyHealth—the professional society for health services research and health policy—seized this opportunity and expanded its efforts to educate policymakers about health services research and its lead agency, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Using the agency’s 15th anniversary as its hook, AcademyHealth collaborated with partners from the Friends of AHRQ—a voluntary coalition of more than 250 organizations that support the agency—to execute a multi-pronged educational campaign. Together they set out to bolster existing “boots on the ground” lobbying efforts to promote AHRQ and its research using strategic communications tools.

First, AcademyHealth commissioned CRD Associates to draft a commemorative report that showcased AHRQ’s success stories. AHRQ: 15 Years of Transforming Care and Improving Health includes seminal research findings and testimonials from prominent consumers of AHRQ products, including health care providers, patients, employers, and other decision-makers. These testimonials show policymakers, the media, and the public not just what AHRQ and health services research are, but what their broader impact is on health and health care.

In conjunction with the release of the report on January 29, AcademyHealth and CRD Associates organized a congressional briefing to allow thought leaders featured in the report to share their stories, in-person. Before a standing-room-only crowd of representatives of the health research and policy communities and congressional staff, the panelists noted that throughout their careers AHRQ research, datasets, and tools played a pivotal role in generating the evidence required to support delivery systems and the needs of the consumer.

Dr. Stephen Parente (University of Minnesota) began by revealing how AHRQ tools and funding have contributed so profoundly to his professional career. In particular, he discussed how—with an R01 grant from the agency—he was able to fund the first-ever Medicare admission analysis of health information technology’s (HIT’s) impact. Dr. Parente noted that although an exploratory article found little evidence of HIT’s impact on the quality of care, the latest analysis finds its impact on the quality of care is extremely positive. AHRQ funding made a deeper level of analysis possible, and as a result, his research was more impactful.

Dr. Karen Minyard (Georgia Health Policy Center) brought a state-based perspective to the panel. Dr. Minyard began by telling attendees, “I literally couldn’t do my work without AHRQ.” She recounted her work with the Georgia legislature. When Dr. Minyard learned that several legislators wanted to better understand how the health system fit together, she used the Georgia Health Policy Center’s dynamic systems models, which predict health outcomes based on the available literature. Minyard explained that AHRQ’s research and datasets are essential in building the models and that they were responsible for passing a statewide bill requiring fitness testing for students – a bill that the legislature had been battling for years.

Dr. Lucy Savitz (Intermountain Healthcare) discussed the importance of AHRQ in building a learning health care system. She discussed how agency-generated data has been useful in cost structure examinations within delivery system settings. “AHRQ allows us to do research, figure out what works, and spread it,” and after all, the “Holy Grail” of health care is reducing cost while improving quality, said Dr. Savitz.

Advocacy has always been a game of inches. And while not as dramatic as the “Hail Mary” pass, sometimes the tried and true “ground and pound” plays are most effective in moving the ball down the field. ARHQ’s 15th anniversary presented an opportunity to reflect on the agency’s accomplishments, consider its many contributions to the field, and focus on the possibilities for its future. Likewise, it allowed AcademyHealth to think creatively about expanding its traditional advocacy strategy to educate a broader audience.

Read the full report, including the full testimonies of the briefing panelists can be found here: AHRQ: 15 Years of Transforming Care and Improving Health.

Lisa Ellington

Big Thinkery, LLC, 1011 Kenilworth Court Northwest, Concord, NC, 28027