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Archived Comments for: What do you do for a living? Toward a more succinct definition of health services research

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  1. Response to Commentary

    W. David Helms, AcademyHealth

    5 October 2006

    Charles Phillips commentary “What do you do for a living? Toward a more succinct definition of health services research” raised a number of thought provoking points about our identity as a field and the ongoing struggle to communicate the value of what we do.

    The existing definitions of our field, particularly the AcademyHealth definition presented by Lohr and Steinwachs and cited in the commentary, sought to define the boundaries of the health services research field, a function that Phillips recognizes as important. Reasonable people will disagree – and in fact do disagree – on exactly where those boundaries should be drawn, but the Lohr and Steinwachs definition has established a baseline from which to draw.

    Perhaps equally important, how OTHERS define and value the work we do varies greatly, and as a result, we need to have different value-based messages for different audiences. Or said another way, the value of our research depends on who you are and where you sit in the health system. From that perspective, we agree with Phillips overarching idea that it is helpful to provide shorter and simpler messages that include the end goal of the research, i.e., to improve access to high quality health care. Yet these “elevator speeches” are contextual explanations tailored to the audience with whom you are communicating. The economist studying the impact of payment system changes on the quality of care in non-profit hospitals will have a very different elevator speech than the practitioner evaluating the impact of coverage limits on treatment outcomes for behavioral health…and yet each is clearly conducting health services research.

    AcademyHealth, together with the Coalition for Health Services Research, continues to develop strategies and products to communicate the value of health services research to key constituencies. These include our HSR Impact Series—case studies of research that has made a positive impact on health policy and/or practice—and a new initiative to develop a more compelling business case for the field of health services research. The business case will go beyond describing what health services research is, providing a vision that will outline how health services research will transform the health care system in the 21st Century and provide the budget justification for continued (and increased) investment in the field

    We thank Dr. Phillips for raising these important questions and for stepping forward to offer his perspective. We also welcome other thoughts and suggestions for how to better communicate the value of this field’s important research.

    Competing interests

    Dr. Helms is President and CEO of AcademyHealth,the professional society for the fields of health services research and health policy. AcademyHealth programs are dedicated to stimulating the development, understanding, and use of the best available health services research and health policy information by public and private decision makers.