Can we speak the same language?

April 2, 2012

On April 13, 2012, CHRT is sponsoring a symposium geared to health policy-makers, funders and researchers, to ask this question: can individuals from these three worlds do a better job of working together?

I come from the health policy world at the state level, and more recently have a toe in the academic world, so I’ve had the chance to see the world from both vantage points. Throughout my career, I’ve been interested in translating research into policy, and I’ve always valued my public health education because it gave me the ability to understand research so I could apply it.

But I became particularly passionate about the need for policy makers and researchers to work better together when I was running the Michigan Department of Human Services. In that capacity, I could see that some academics were focused on producing information relevant to the problems we were facing, and some were not. I have long wanted to strengthen this connection and help policy makers (writ large, inclusive of those who make decisions for a population in the private sector as well) make better decisions on behalf of their constituents, because their decisions have real impact on individual lives.

Now that I’ve spent some time being hosted in an academic setting, I have a better understanding of the way incentives work in academia (tenure decisions and the like) and how funding priorities can affect researchers’ choices about what to study. Policy-makers rarely have time to wait for randomized control trials to shed light on their questions, but applied research is messy (at best) and messy research doesn’t always lead to publishable articles useful for tenure decisions.

As funding from the National Institutes of Health and others is reduced, however, it will be increasingly necessary for researchers to seek funding from sources that care more about speed and relevance to policy than the ability to publish in academic journals. So, the key question is: how can we bring these groups together in a way that helps them achieve their goals and leads to better decisions for all?

Because our symposium includes prominent speakers from all three perspectives, it should be a stimulating look at this question. We have health purchasers representing some of the largest payers in the country, as well as legislators and major funders from the state and national levels. And we have a panel of University of Michigan researchers, all of whom have managed not only to produce and publish top notch research, but also demonstrate real change in practice and policy with an impact on people’s lives.

We expect a lively, interactive discussion between the panelists, the panelists and the audience, and within the audience itself. And most of all, we hope that real-life examples and ideas will emerge. As the University of Michigan’s new Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation becomes operational, we all want to do whatever we can to realize the promise of its title. On April 13, some of the best thinkers around will help us achieve that goal.