AHRQ Spearheads Initiatives to Improve Diagnostic Quality & Safety

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), one of the federal agencies supporting the Coalition to Improve Diagnosis, is spearheading three initiatives focused on improving diagnostic quality and safety.

Working with health system leaders, clinical experts, researchers, patient advocates, and others, AHRQ has identified three critical challenges in today’s digital healthcare ecosystem. One of those challenges is to improve diagnosis and reduce diagnostic errors that take place each year by applying evidence-based patient safety strategies, predictive analytics, personalized and precision medicine, and new technologies at the point of care.

To achieve this goal, AHRQ is leading the following efforts:

Partners Enabling Diagnostic Excellence research grants – The goal of this initiative is to fund investigator-initiated health services research projects that will expand the field’s understanding and advance diagnostic safety and quality. This project will fund four grants, at approximately $500,000 per year for each project. The request for applications highlighted three research areas of interest: 1) establishing the incidence of diagnostic errors; 2) understanding the contributing factors for those errors for unique clinical conditions and healthcare settings; and, 3) understanding the association between diagnostic errors and outcomes (e.g., adverse events, costs, and utilization).

Patient Safety Learning Laboratories – These learning laboratories are created for transdisciplinary teams to identify threats to diagnostic or treatment efforts associated with a high burden of harm and cost. Following a systems engineering methodology, the learning laboratories stretch professional boundaries, envision innovative designs, and take advantage of brainstorming and rapid prototyping techniques that other leading industries employ. AHRQ plans to support eight grants for four years at $625,000 per year per project to continue this impactful collection of work.

“Our hope is that these partnerships will help to not only drive high-quality research, but that they will also set the stage to improve safety based on the broad application of the findings,” says Jeff Brady, MD, MPH, Director, Center for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety, AHRQ.

AHRQ is in the process of reviewing applications and will announce awardees in the fall.

Federal Interagency Workgroup on Improving Diagnostic Safety and Quality - AHRQ convened this workgroup in March 2019, uniting representatives from several different U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies (CDC, CMS, HRSA, Indian Health Service, Office of the National Coordinator for HIT, Assistant Secretary for Health, multiple institutes within NIH), the U.S. Department of Defense, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. AHRQ manages this workgroup, which will foster interaction between federal agencies that share interests in diagnostic safety and quality and facilitate activities outlined in the 2015 National Academy of Medicine report, Improving Diagnosis in Health Care. Over time, the group can serve as a focal point that’s complementary to the work of the Coalition and function as a hub for innovation and progress.

“As we work on this together, the role of the Coalition is critically important. We need to continue to be collaborative and coordinated,” says Dr. Brady. “The Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine and the Coalition play important roles in understanding the problem and using what we know to solve the problems that are related to diagnostic quality and safety.”

AHRQ is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, with a dedicated mission to make health care safer, higher quality, more accessible, equitable, and affordable in the future. The Agency continues to implement their core competencies: funding investigators on the cutting edge of health systems research; developing initiatives to help health systems implement the most effective strategies for practice improvement; and supporting greater use of data and analytics to improve healthcare decision-making.

Additional resources on AHRQ’s diagnostic safety and quality tools and findings are their Diagnostic Safety and Quality webpage and Improving Diagnosis flyer.