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AHRQ Annual Highlights, 2006

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Preparing for Public Health Emergencies

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) supports research and the development of models, tools, and reports to assess, plan, and improve the ability of the U.S. health care system to respond to public health emergencies that result from natural, biological, chemical, nuclear, and other infectious disease events. These initiatives focus on an array of issues related to clinicians, hospitals, and health care systems, including the need to establish linkages among these providers with local and State public health departments, emergency management personnel, and others preparing to respond to events that have the potential to cause mass casualties.

Computer Model Helps States Predict Health Care Staff Required During Public Health Emergencies

The Vermont Department of Health relied on an AHRQ computer model to help forecast public health staffing needs in the event of a major public health emergency. The AHRQ tool, called the Bioterrorism and Epidemic Outbreak Response Model (BERM), helps health officials predict the number and type of staff needed to dispense drugs and triage patients after a bioterrorism attack or during a disease epidemic. The model was developed by Nathaniel Hupert, M.D., M.P.H., Assistant Professor of Public Health and Medicine at Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

The AHRQ tool helps estimate requirements for numerous staff categories, including nurses, pharmacists, EMS personnel, doctors, clinic greeters, security guards, and traffic monitors. The BERM tool also helps health officials estimate how much extra time would be needed to treat special populations, such as children, non-English speakers, and people with disabilities.

In 2006, AHRQ released two new resources for emergency response planners and health care providers:

  • Pediatric Terrorism and Disaster Preparedness: A Resource for Pediatricians. This resource is intended to increase awareness of the unique needs of children and encourage collaboration among pediatricians, State and local emergency response planners, health care systems, and others involved in planning and response efforts for natural disasters and terrorism. The publication provides an overview of the role of national, regional, and local emergency response systems before, during, and after disasters and terrorism events. The pediatrician's role in collaborating with this infrastructure and local emergency departments, schools, and daycare facilities is highlighted. Children's emotional and mental health needs are also described, including the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and behavioral problems that often result from these incidents.
  • Mass Medical Care With Scarce Resources: A Community Planning Guide. This guide provides community planners, as well as planners at the institutional, State, and Federal levels, with valuable information to help plan for and respond to a mass casualty event (MCE). This planning guide examines MCE response and preparedness challenges across a wide range of health care settings and provides recommendations for planners in specific areas.

In January 2006, AHRQ also sponsored a Web conference, "Strategies and Tools for Meeting the Needs of Children." This Web conference explored key issues surrounding the preparedness planning for the care of children. It highlighted innovative research, tools, and models that can be used in developing effective preparedness strategies for addressing the unique needs of children.

AHRQ Report Assists Health System in Reopening Shuttered Hospital after Hurricane Katrina

CHRISTUS Schumpert Health System of Shreveport, Louisiana, drew on an AHRQ report, Use of Former ("Shuttered") Hospitals to Expand Surge Capacity, when it reopened 29 acute care hospital beds in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which struck the region August 29, 2005. These acute care beds are in CHRISTUS Schumpert's Bossier facility, which had previously operated primarily as a scaled-down provider of rehabilitation services. The AHRQ report gives emergency responders and public health officials useful, practical tools for opening shuttered hospitals when an emergency is underway or as a part of community preparedness planning efforts. It provides information including lists of supplies and medications needed by stable medical/surgical patients and checklists to assess facility readiness, staffing needs and levels, and patient transport readiness. The report also contains a tool kit with a list of supplies and equipment needed for operation of a reopened facility.

To learn more about all AHRQ-supported research, tools, and activities related to bioterrorism and public health emergency preparedness, visit the AHRQ Web site at

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Looking to the Future

In 2007, AHRQ will continue its mission to improve the quality, safety, and cost-effectiveness of health care in America with a focus on prompting greater uptake and use of its tools and research. Examples of key programs and initiatives follow.

Questions are the Answer Campaign

AHRQ has joined with the Ad Council to launch a national public service advertising campaign designed to encourage adults to take a more proactive role in their health care. The campaign entitled "Questions Are the Answer: Get More Involved With Your Health Care" was launched during national Patient Safety Awareness Week in March 2007 and will run for 1 year. The campaign encourages all patients and caregivers to become more active in their health care by asking questions and will be supported through media advertising and a Web site where consumers can obtain tips on how to help prevent medical mistakes and become a partner in their health care.

AHRQ is also working with the Ad Council to encourage preventive health care in the Spanish-speaking population.

Annual State Snapshots

In 2006, AHRQ will release its annual State Snapshots, an application that helps State health leaders, researchers, consumers, and others understand the status of health care quality in individual States, including each State's strengths and weaknesses. The 51 State Snapshots—every State plus Washington, D.C.—are based on 129 quality measures, each of which evaluates a different segment of health care performance. While the measures are the products of complex statistical formulas, they are expressed on the Web site as simple, five-color "performance meter" illustrations. The data, drawn from AHRQ's 2006 National Healthcare Quality Report, come from various data sources that cover multiple years. Preliminary findings show that some shortcomings in health care quality are widespread. On average, for example, States reported that only about 59 percent of adult surgery patients insured by Medicare receive appropriate timing of antibiotics.

NHQRnet and NHDRnet

The release of the annual State Snapshots will be complemented by the launch of NHQRnet and NHDRnet, a pair of new, interactive Web-based tools for searching AHRQ's storehouse of national health care data. These online search engines will allow users to create spreadsheets and customize searches of information in the 2006 National Healthcare Quality Report (NHQR) and the 2006 National Healthcare Disparities Report (NHDR).

Health Care Report Card Compendium

A new Web tool that demonstrates a variety of approaches for health quality report cards will be released in 2006. The new Health Care Report Card Compendium will be a searchable directory of over 200 samples of report cards produced by a variety of organizations. The samples will show formats and approaches for providing comparative information on the quality of health plans, hospitals, medical groups, individual physicians, nursing homes, and other providers of care.

Improving Patient Safety Through Simulation Research

In April 2006, AHRQ issued its Request for Applications (RFA) to fund $2.4 million in grants for research and evaluation of simulation as a strategy to improve the safe delivery of health care. Such projects would include research that involves team training, the effects of implementing health information technology (health IT), the use of "standardized patients," and the impact of virtual reality across diverse settings of care.

Ambulatory Safety and Quality Grant Program

AHRQ announced in December 2006 that the Agency will fund up to $26 million in new research projects to improve the safety and quality of ambulatory health care. These projects will focus on:

  • The development of health IT to assist clinicians, practices, and systems improve the quality and safety of care delivery and medication management.
  • The development of health IT to assist clinicians, practices, and systems measure the quality and safety of care in ambulatory care settings.
  • Projects to support proactive risk assessments and model risks and known hazards that threaten patient safety.
  • Demonstration projects that will explore the use of health IT and related policies and practices to establish and enhance patient-centered care.

Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (CAHPS®)

New Items for People with Mobility Impairments

The CAHPS® Consortium is developing a set of survey items that would allow survey sponsors to assess the experiences of adults age 18-64 who have a mobility impairment with health care services. The Consortium expects to release this item set for public use by early 2007.

CAHPS® III RFA Published

In 2006, AHRQ published the RFA for CAHPS® III. The scope of work for CAHPS® III differs from that for CAHPS® I and II in that there is a greater emphasis on two areas: quality improvement projects and research on reporting survey results to consumers, purchasers, and other audiences. Developing new surveys and maintaining existing surveys continue to be a part of the work, as does disseminating and promoting CAHPS® products. AHRQ intends to commit $4.5 million annually to CAHPS® III.

Value-Driven Health Care Initiative

AHRQ will play a central role in creating Chartered Value Exchanges throughout the country. Under the initiative, Chartered Value Exchanges are seen as the focal points of health care transformation. They will comprise multi-stakeholder organizations which will bring together a community's purchasers, health plans, providers, consumers, and other interested stakeholders to implement meaningful changes at the local level where health care is actually delivered.

For more information about Chartered Value Exchanges, please visit

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In Conclusion

The evidence developed through ARHQ-sponsored research and analyses helps everyone involved in patient care make more informed choices about what treatments work, for whom, when, and at what cost. Health care quality is improving, but much more remains to be done to achieve optimal quality. AHRQ will continue to invest in successful programs that develop and translate useful knowledge and tools so that the end result of the Agency's research will be measurable improvements in health care in America through improved quality of care and patient outcomes and value gained for what we spend.

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AHRQ Publication No. 07-0037
Current as of July 2007

The information on this page is archived and provided for reference purposes only.


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