• Analyze This: Graham Center's Work Shows Value of Primary Care

    The power of informed debate is something that is often overlooked and undervalued in our current political environment -- especially in health care where emotion can often override sound policy. The ability to evaluate policies, data, and trends is essential to the improvement of our health care system.

    The need for such analysis is what led physician researchers such as Kerr L. White, M.D., to establish a field, as he described it, devoted to the “study of the relative benefits, risks, and costs of health interventions for individuals and populations.” Although the field of health services research has existed in some form for hundreds of years, its formal roots in the United States are largely tied to the establishment of the National Center for Health Services in 1968. Today, it is known as the Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ) and remains at the forefront of the federal government’s efforts to "produce evidence to make health care safer, higher quality, more accessible, equitable, and affordable."

    The AAFP also recognized the importance of producing evidence that demonstrated the value of family medicine and primary care, and, its impact on the health of individuals and our health care system. In 1997, the AAFP Board of Directors approved the development of a Center for Policy Studies in Family Practice and Primary Care. The center, which is located in Washington, D.C., is charged with producing research and analysis that informs deliberations of the AAFP and its public policy work. It also provides the perspective of family medicine to policy debates in Washington and around the nation.  

    In 1999, the center began operations with a research agenda focused on "policy questions related to family physician services and the general domain of primary care." In 2000, the center was renamed, in honor of former AAFP Executive Vice President Robert Graham, M.D.  This year the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care is celebrating its 15th anniversary, a milestone worth noting. During the past 15 years, the Graham Center has grown into a nationally recognized research center that is at the forefront of health services and economic research. It is a resource unique to family medicine, and we should celebrate its contributions to the advancement of family medicine and the betterment of health care policy.

    Today, the Graham Center focuses its research agenda around four themes: the value of primary care; health access and equity; delivery and scope of the medical home; and healthcare quality and safety. Although the center has a broad and impactful research agenda, its contributions to physician workforce research is the cornerstone of its success. The center’s research on physician workforce has directly influenced policies at the federal and state levels and is the foundation for programs such as teaching health centers and rural training tracks. The center has published a state-by-state analysis of workforce projections that influences decisions made by state legislatures and governors and empowers family medicine advocates in all 50 states.

    In recent years, the center has expanded its research portfolio to focus on issues that directly and indirectly impact the economic viability of family medicine practices. These research projects range from payment policies to analysis of new and emerging delivery models such as the patient-centered medical home and direct primary care. In the past year, the Center published an analysis on Blended Payment Models and Associated Care Management Fees. This document already is influencing public and private payment policies and is a tremendous resource that I encourage you to familiarize yourself with.

    Although the research work of the Graham Center remains its highest priority, it is important to note that it also has emerged as one of the top incubators of the next generation of family medicine and primary care researchers through its visiting scholars and fellows programs. Since the inception of these two programs, more than 120 family medicine researchers have participated. This network of scholars includes individuals who now serve as leaders in academic and government institutions across the nation and around the world. Training future research leaders is an investment that will pay dividends for family medicine for generations to come.

    The establishment of the Robert Graham Center was a forward thinking decision by the AAFP and indicative of the manner in which we continue to deploy resources in a manner that benefits patients, our members, the discipline, and our health care system.


    Stephanie Quinn, AAFP Senior Vice President of Advocacy, Practice Advancement and Policy.  Read author bio »


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