Funding Health Services Research

HRA Members Meeting Spring 2018

The multidisciplinary field of Health Service Research (HSR) focuses on the factors affecting research outcomes including its costs, quality, accessibility, delivery, organization, and financing, with the goal to optimize health services for individuals and populations. At the Spring 2018 Members Meeting in New York, three organizations provided an overview of the discipline of HSR, shared their health sciences funding programs, and provided practical considerations funders should consider when incorporating health service research questions.

Opportunities for Grantmakers

Lisa Simpson, President and CEO of AcademyHealth defined HSR as “What works? For whom? Under what circumstances? At what costs? And once it works, how do we implement, scale and spread?” The challenge is the “failure to translate research findings into clinical practice,” especially considering that up to 40% of patients are either not getting the best treatment or getting treatment that is not needed or potentially harmful. Simpson also pointed out that HSR is an opportunity for Grantmakers, as there’s limited private sector investments and a lot of research gaps remain.

Building a Culture of Health

“Whereas in clinical studies where as many factors as possible are kept constant, the real world is more complex. But rigorous research [of what is working in the real world] is still very important,” said Lori Melichar, Director of Pioneer Portfolio at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). For RWJF, building a culture of health guides every aspect of their work—from grantmaking focus areas, to the types of research and initiatives funded, to assessment of the effectiveness of our grant programs. New research areas include personalized medicine and personalized public health – a new field investigating what individuals are at risk for specific diseases or complications, and what kind of therapies might help them.

Including Health Service Research “even into the most basic research portfolio”

Susan Fitzpatrick, President of the James S. McDonnell Foundation, emphasized the importance of encouraged funders to include HSR concepts explicitly and early “even into the most basic research portfolios.” The challenge that promising discoveries fail to deliver the health care therapies and interventions needed for improving the lives of patients can only be solved implementing real world knowledge, concepts, context and constraints into preclinical research, according to Fitzpatrick. She advised that health funders should worry about topics like accessibility, equity, affordability, and meaningfulness of outcomes, while always considering “how new interventions perturb the health care ecosystem.”
Overall, the field of Health Service Research offers meaningful opportunities for funders to improve the delivery and access of health care – a research area that is greatly underserved in the current funding environment.