Robert S. “Tom” Thompson, MD, Andy Stergarchis, PhD, and Michael Von Korff, ScD, were among Group Health’s first scientific investigators when it established the Center for Health Studies in 1983.

Always part of Group Health's mission

Research has been a part of Group Health's vision since the Cooperative was founded in 1946. In fact, Group Health's first mission statement said that the organization would "contribute to medical research."

The Cooperative began its first research project in 1956 with Dr. K. Warner Schaie’s “Seattle Longitudinal Study," an investigation of age-related cognitive changes among Group Health members that continues today. Requests for research access to Group Health enrollees and data increased through the 1960s, prompting the organization to establish the Group Health Research Department in 1969.

In the early 1970s, Group Health contributed to projects with major implications for national health policy. Among these were the RAND Health Insurance Experiment and two demonstration projects—the Model Cities Project and Plan 9 Rural Health Project—both designed to improve health care for low-income people.

In 1975, the Group Health medical staff founded the Department of Preventive Care Research, led by Robert S. "Tom" Thompson, MD. This department's early work led to Group Health's Lifetime Health Monitoring Program, Well-Child Visit schedule, and Breast Cancer Screening Program. In 1978, Thompson established the Group Health Committee on Prevention, which developed Group Health's first evidence-based clinical guidelines. Also in 1978, the Group Health Board of Trustees adopted the organization's first formal research policy and guidelines, resulting in the current Research Committee and Human Subjects Review Committee.

Center for Health Studies established

In 1983, the Group Health Board of Trustees established the Group Health Center for Health Studies (CHS), which was later named Group Health Research Institute. With Ed Wagner, MD, MPH, at the helm, the Center's research helped Group Health become a national leader in such areas as breast cancer screening, immunization, smoking cessation, health promotion in seniors, and epidemiology and management of common chronic diseases. Focusing on evidence-based medicine and improved clinical outcomes, Group Health and the Center emerged as key players in transforming the U.S. health care system and helping shape global research priorities, clinical guidelines, and coverage standards.

Leading with a spirit of collaboration

Group Health continued to expand its research capabilities over the next decade, with CHS grant revenue topping more than $5 million by 1993. Through collaboration with researchers locally, nationally, and internationally, CHS added breadth and depth to its findings, using multi-disciplinary approaches to study larger populations. Among our key partners—then and now—are the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, and several major universities, including the University of Washington (UW), Harvard University, and the University of Michigan.

In 1996, CHS leaders catalyzed the formation of the Health Care Systems Research Network (HCSRN) (formerly HMORN), an 18-member consortium of health plans within integrated health care systems. Through the HCSRN, Group Health researchers work with scientists nationwide to combine and study data from a diverse population more than 15 million people.

CHS also provided collaborative leadership through its MacColl Institute for Healthcare Innovation (now called the MacColl Center), founded in 1992. MacColl Center staff worked with Group Health to create and pioneer the Chronic Care Model, with funds for development and dissemination coming from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

By the decade's end, Wagner had stepped down from leading CHS to focus on directing the MacColl. Sue Curry, PhD, became the Center's next director as grant revenue exceeded $10 million. CHS welcomed a new director in 2002: Eric Larson, MD, MPH, previously the medical director of the UW Medical Center.

CHS becomes Group Health Research Institute

CHS changed its name to Group Health Research Institute (GHRI) in September 2009, a move intended to boost the organization’s visibility locally and nationally—and to further solidify Group Health's role as a leader in transforming health care. 

Over the past decade, GHRI has continued to grow in size and influence, reaching annual external revenue of $46 million by 2012—a level that has since been sustained. In addition to traditional and new lines of research, it has focused on further developing Group Health’s capacity as “a learning health care system”—a place where research influences practice and practice influences practice.

Research on Group Health innovations such as its patient-centered medical home, shared decision-making for preference-sensitive conditions, and its opioid risk-mitigation initiative are recent examples of successful collaborations between Group Health clinical leaders and GHRI scientists in developing our learning health care system.  This work, along with our traditional lines of NIH-funded research, continue to serve our mission to improve health and health care for all.