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AHRQ awards $2.1 million in grants to help clinicians promote healthy behaviors among their patients

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality have announced the first round of grants awarded through Prescription for Health, a research initiative supported by both organizations. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., is the Nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care.

The new multi-year initiative—which focuses on innovations carried out in primary care practices to tackle physical inactivity, smoking, poor diet, and risky drinking—is designed to develop effective, practical strategies that primary care providers can use to help Americans change their unhealthy behaviors.

Research shows that unhealthy behaviors account for 40 percent of premature deaths in this country. More than 46.5 million American adults continue to smoke, despite the well-known risks, while nearly 14 million adults drink too much alcohol, raising their risk for liver disease, accidents, and trauma. Over 60 percent of American adults are overweight, and nearly 40 percent are too sedentary, increasing their susceptibility to heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

In the first phase of the new program, 17 primary care practice-based research networks (PBRNs)—groups of medical practices that affiliate with each other to improve health care quality though research—received grants to design and test innovative projects to assist primary care providers (e.g., physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants) in helping patients become more physically active, eat healthier foods, avoid or quit smoking, and moderate use of alcohol. Each project is expected to identify strategies that can be applied in routine primary care practice to address at least two risky behaviors.

Collaborating with RWJF on the Prescription for Health program, AHRQ and the National Institutes of Health's Office of Behavioral and Social Science Research have funded a Resource Center to expand the capacity of the PBRNs as they create the systems and infrastructure needed to develop and test new strategies. The resource center is directed by the Indiana University School of Medicine and the National Opinion Research Center.

Each of the 16-month innovation grants is funded for $125,000. A list of grantees can be found at www.prescriptionforhealth.org/grantees/index.html. The innovations include new tools, cues, and strategies that redesign primary care practice to focus on health-related behaviors. The target populations that the projects will affect are diverse with respect to age, sex, geography, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and insurance status.

Examples of the innovations funded under this initiative include:

  • Creation of new types of staff positions, such as community health advisors, who can link patients with specific local opportunities.
  • Prescribed Web sites that give patients ways to access information, local resources, and assistance from their doctor.
  • A hand-held computer (personal digital assistant, or PDA) to help clinicians tailor counseling to the particular patient they are seeing.
  • Links to community resources that provide regularly scheduled counseling by phone matched to each patient's stage of adaptation.
  • A PDA-based assessment of health risks for adolescents with E-mail followup.

Only PBRNs were eligible to apply for the grants, and the 17 grantees were selected from among 70 proposals. A subsequent call for proposals to be issued near the end of 2004 will solicit a second round of innovation grants, as well as further studies to test and refine promising first-round innovations.

For more information about the grant awards and the Prescription for Health program, please visit www.prescriptionforhealth.org.

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