Four months ago, we weren’t even sure that we’d be able to convene our community, keeping you safe and still delivering the quality content and engagement that you have come to expect from the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting (ARM). I’m very excited about the virtual format we have developed.
Please watch the orientation video so you can see some of the cool features on the platform. And for the first time ever, you will have full access to every single ARM session – either in real-time or via recorded sessions on your schedule. This content will remain available to you until next year, May of 2021! And in addition, we’ll be adding newly recorded content throughout the year. Thanks to work of our Interest Groups, our Methods and Data Council and our Education Council. And these additional sessions, also, are available only to you through your ARM registration.
Of course, we’re meeting in a virtual format because our nation and the world continues to face a devastating pandemic, with no end in sight. It is painful to me that at a time like this, when we need the brilliance and collaboration of our field more than ever, that we can’t all be together in person.
We need each other. The world is in turmoil and our personal and professional lives have been disrupted. But this disruption, like so much in this nation, does not fall equally on all. The choices of state and local policymakers, where you live, and systemic racism are all creating conditions where some experience poorer health, toxic environments, and gross disparities in care. And still, science, data, evidence, and public health are being questioned in ways I have never before witnessed.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the stark weaknesses in our health systems – profound and deadly disparities in outcomes, underfunded and undervalued public health infrastructure, and health systems that are bleeding millions since the pandemic began. I could go on. At the same time, the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and so many black Americans have sparked the nationwide protests denouncing structural racism and police violence, and shining a much brighter light on the persistent inequities that contribute to health, death, and illness.
It brings to mind the always inspiring words of James Baldwin: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
So, to change our world, we must ourselves change. Each of these crises calls upon us to critically and honestly reconsider our norms and behaviors – societally, academically, professionally, and personally. As a field, we must meet this moment with courage, resilience, and intention.
My optimism has been sorely tested these past few months, yet I remain convinced that this national convulsion can propel us to action. As Nicholas Kristoff recently reflected on the history of the New Deal and the Great Depression, he said: “Maybe national anguish can again be the midwife of progress.” Our field and our evidence can support this rebirth towards a more just society. To do any less, I believe, is squandering the promise of health services research (HSR).
And so it is in the spirit of optimism and action that I share with you how AcademyHealth is responding. We are fortunate that our board approved a new strategic plan in December, which will help AcademyHealth find our way through the chaos. The plan lays out a structure for progress, with the flexibility to address the key issues of our day.
First, it updates our mission, naming both why and how we exist -- AcademyHealth improves health and health care for all -- that’s the why -- by advancing evidence to inform policy and practice – and that’s the how. It further centers our work around core values: evidence for action, diversity and inclusion, leading based on continuous learning, collaboration and community, and trust and integrity. Operationally, it calls on us to work on impact, workforce, engagement and innovation. The four pillars of our plan. You can learn more about our strategic plan here.
When we met with our board again last month to assess our work in light of what we are facing, we prioritized three cross-cutting areas where we will focus our activities. These are:
- research innovation,
- health systems improvement, and
- structural racism and racial justice.
In the area of science innovation, for example, we’re drawing on our now 2-year effort, the Paradigm Project, which is pushing us to rethink the HSR ecosystem using human-center design to accelerate work on a number of promising innovations – such as creating online tools to help researchers identify biases in the way they use and interpret data and create algorithms for decision-making and applying practices derived from start-up investing to incubate partnerships that help systems apply evidence to address health equity. These incubators will provide funding and technical assistance, as well as implementation support and dissemination.
While we’re testing this first group of innovations, we are also continuing our work with learning health systems and our Interest Group leadership to address ways to rapidly understand and respond to the needs of researchers embedded in health systems.
While each of these efforts also incorporates programming related to equity and racism, we know that real change comes from concerted, intentional and sustained effort. This is not new space for AcademyHealth. In 2014, with strong endorsement from our Board of Directors, we launched our Center on Diversity, Inclusion and Minority Engagement (DIME) and that year hosted our first cohort of Diversity Scholars at ARM. But there is so much more we need to do. Today, we take the next steps this year at the ARM.
First, you’ll see a clear theme in our plenary presentations this year. Dr. Ruha Benjamin will open with a look at bias in our data and reflections on how we do our research.
In week two, we’ll have a plenary discussion about structural racism and institutional responses.
And our final, closing plenary will turn the spotlight on leadership and our respective roles in rising to this moment. The winner of this year’s Emerging Leader Award Winner, Dr. Rachel Hardeman will lead a frank discussion, during which I and other leaders in the field, and the institutions of our field will reflect on the ways we are doing the difficult work of tackling racism and racial justice, and, ultimately moving the field of HSR to do the same.
To continue to inform our work to address the culture within HSR, AcademyHealth is also supporting a team of UCLA students to conduct a ‘workplace culture’ survey, looking at our colleagues’ perception of diversity, equity and inclusion in the field. The survey has just opened, and all of you should have received an invitation to participate and I urge you to do so. Please take the time. Your input is critical.
I also want to take a moment to recognize the hard work of our volunteer leaders of both our Disparities Interest Group, Drs. Megan Douglas and Michelle Ko, and the ARM co-chairs, Drs. Ninez Ponce and Sarah Gollust, and many other members and they have all been integral in helping to shape our agenda.
This is only the beginning and I hope you will me, join us, leading and modeling change in your own institutions. Thank you again for being with us at this critical time in our nation’s history. I looking forward to “seeing” you in the chats and the networking sessions.