PARTNERS (Patient-centered outcomes research: Applied Research TraNsforming Engaged Real-world Systems)

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has awarded a two-year, $883,000 training grant to support a collaborative effort known as called PARTNERS (Patient-centered outcomes research: Applied Research TraNsforming Engaged Real-world Systems).

Participating partners include the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center (ZSFG) and its network of community health clinics, and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute (PAMFRI), an outstanding research unit embedded within a health care delivery system.

“To be more than just a collection of peer-reviewed publications, research needs to be assessed and adopted, often with adaptations, in real-world settings,” said Harold S. Luft, Ph.D., director of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute and professor emeritus of health policy at the Philip R. Lee Institute of Health Policy Studies. “This requires researcher understanding of the constraints, expectations and time frames of such settings. Such understanding leads to much better research.

A significant component of this research is collaboration between the three main partners.“Scholars in the two-year PARTNERS training program will already have both the clinical and research skills to undertake excellent research, but want to learn about doing such research embedded within, or in true partnerships with, delivery systems. They will be engaged in on-going projects with their mentors as well as developing their own projects in multidisciplinary teams in the three sites.”

Ralph Gonzales, M.D., MSPH, director of the Implementation Science program managed by UCSF's Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI), will supervise the PARTNERS program at UCSF.

“The AHRQ PARTNERS program provides a new mechanism for supporting UCSF clinical faculty who conduct patient-centered outcomes research that is embedded within our own hospital and ambulatory care delivery system,” said Gonzales, who is also a professor of Medicine at UCSF. ”This will help to further establish UCSF as a leader in the science of health care delivery.”

“The scholars selected for the AHRQ PARTNERS will be able to respond to the opportunities and challenges associated with Healthy San Francisco and national health reform,” said Margot Kushel, M.D., associate professor of Medicine in the UCSF Division of General Internal Medicine, and director of the SFGH site. “Building on UCSF’s strengths in implementation sciences and patient centered outcomes research, this program will help us to build a cadre of outstanding clinician scientists involved in delivery system redesign.”

“The Affordable Care Act provides not only funding for increased insurance coverage, but also for research to understand what health care is valued most by different patients and how best to deliver that care,” said Luft. “The AHRQ has funded health research over the years, but this new program concentrates on training new cohorts of researchers to focus on patient-centered outcomes.

“Typically, you have a smart researcher in an academic setting using existing data or finding a delivery system willing to share data. That’s just one bite of the apple—the researcher rarely knows how the data were created or what they really mean. With our approach to fostering deep collaboration between researchers and delivery systems, we can get better information and make better sense of it. We have not just one bite of the apple, but the ability to wander through the entire orchard and truly understand why things are the way they are.”

This round of AHRQ funding is open to clinicians who already have strong research skills and want to go beyond the academic world and potentially seek research careers in non-academic settings.

“A huge advantage of this collaboration is that the clinician researchers will be embedded in the care delivery systems at UCSF, San Francisco General Hospital and Palo Alto Medical Foundation medical centers,” Luft said.

A total of three trainees will be selected from the applicant pool. Each will be based at one of the collaborating sites, where they will work with ongoing teams and receive mentoring to develop their own research agendas.

Drawing an analogy to the hockey great Wayne Gretzky, Luft said, “We are training people not to focus on how things are, but ‘to skate to where the puck will be.'”