With health reform underway, the nation’s policymakers, clinicians, and patients all need the same thing: trustworthy, timely evidence for making important decisions about health and health care.
Though the new health reform law shows tremendous promise, the challenges ahead are enormous. American health care ranks low among industrialized countries for quality and efficiency. Like other nations worldwide, we face the difficulty of caring for an aging population as costs of care continue to soar. At the same time, we must find ways to provide care and coverage for more than 50 million Americans who previously had no health insurance. The need for high-performing health care has never been greater.
Group Health Research Institute (GHRI) is responding with research to address the pragmatic issues bearing down on our country’s health care system. Our success comes from our Institute’s role within Group Health Cooperative, an integrated health plan that provides both care and coverage. Like our nation, Group Health must address problems holistically—balancing efforts to improve quality, lower cost, and sustain access for its population.
We take pride that our organization has become a “learning health care system”—a living laboratory for innovation—where GHRI scientists work closely with Group Health care delivery system leaders. Researchers help design demonstration projects, draw information from demonstrations, evaluate the data, and provide feedback, spurring further improvement and innovation. In this way, Group Health is a place where practice influences science while science influences practice—our experience with the medical home model of primary care is an excellent and prominent example.
GHRI researchers used rigorous scientific methods to evaluate Group Health’s medical home pilot and determined that after two years, patients at its prototype clinic had higher quality of care and fewer emergency visits and hospitalizations than controls, resulting in significant net savings. In addition, both patients and clinicians in the pilot were more satisfied with care. Based on these results, Group Health recently extended the model to all 26 of its medical centers, attracting interest from policymakers and health care leaders nationwide.
GHRI’s success also comes from its track record determining which tests, treatments, and preventive actions work best—especially in areas such as cancer, heart disease, depression, and musculoskeletal problems. Unlike research conducted in highly controlled experimental settings, much of Group Health research takes place in populations that accurately reflect widespread community practice, making our findings more relevant to real-world clinical settings. In addition, GHRI’s work is aligned with national efforts to build research capacity through large multi-site consortia and networks, such as our collaborations through the HMO Research Network.
GHRI provides a strong foundation from which to meet the challenges ahead. Our teams are engaged and ready to provide evidence that matters to those improving care for Group Health members and the nation.
Eric B. Larson, MD, MPH
Read Dr. Larson's monthly column, "Notes from Eric" in issues of Group Health Research News.