Tip O’Neill once famously remarked that all politics is local. A meeting convened this past week by AcademyHealth suggested the same is true of health care. Each year, AcademyHealth’s annual research meeting (ARM) travels to a different part of the country, but for the first time this year, AcademyHealth set aside a full day to explore how the issues our members study are playing out in the Orlando region, the host of this year’s ARM. With support from five sponsors, AcademyHealth convened 96 individuals at the University of Central Florida’s School of Medicine to explore health care delivery in the Orlando region and how it relates to both national trends and the underlying health services research base. About half of the participants came from AcademyHealth’s national network researchers and other experts. The remainder were leaders from all sectors of Florida’s health care system.  Even the setting for the meeting - at one of the Nation’s newest and most internationally diverse medical schools  -underscored the prominence of health care in the local community. UCF serves as an anchor for the region’s new Lake Nona Medical City which will soon house a new state-of-the art Nemours specialty children’s hospital, the country’s largest and most modern VA medical facility, several other biomedical research facilities, retail and residential development.   So what did the day’s discussion reveal about the role of health services research in helping local leaders meet their communities’ needs? Whether grappling with how to realize the benefits of patient-centered medical homes among diverse populations; find value in employee health and wellness programs; meet the long-term care needs of an aging population, rout out waste in the process of care delivery; or figure out the best ways for hospitals and physicians to align themselves, four points came through clearly: 

  • Employers, payers, and government participants all stressed that they need more, better, and quicker information. This information isn’t always a randomized clinical trial. It’s often just documentation of the facts as we know them now. This analysis may not be publishable in a peer-reviewed journal, but it does represent an important opportunity for health services researchers to provide public service.
  • At the same time, health services researchers still have work to do in being able to provide the evidence that decision makers need to deliver effective, efficient care. The current research base can often miss the needs and realities of particular populations – especially those suffering health disparities.
  • At the local level, successful innovations in care delivery do exist and represent creative solutions that can blur the traditional roles played by providers, policymakers, and payers.
  • To the extent that these successes are either driven by research evidence or are themselves evaluated, it is often because of personal relationships at the local level between decision-makers who recognize the value of rigorous evidence and researchers willing to work outside the ivory tower.
A number of participants commented that the connections made between researchers and practitioners at the UCF meeting itself suggested the possibility of new collaborations in Florida going forward.   For the benefit of those who did not have a chance to participate in the meeting UCF, AcademyHealth’s President and CEO, Lisa Simpson, moderated a roundtable discussion at Sunday’s ARM that revisited the day’s major themes and what they suggest for health care and health services research in Florida and elsewhere. In the coming months, AcademyHealth will also make a meeting summary and recordings of both the UCF meeting and the ARM panel discussion available to AcademyHealth members through its website. Based on the enthusiasm of the Orlando participants, planning is already underway for a similar day exploring health care in the Baltimore area, host of the 2013 ARM, prior to that meeting.