When I joined AcademyHealth nearly a decade ago as a recent M.P.H. graduate, I was excited to join an organization, and take on a position, that focused not solely on research and not solely on policy, but on what I referred to as “the intersection” of the two. When explaining my new role to friends and family, I acknowledged that while AcademyHealth may be best known for our Annual Research Meeting, it’s #MoreThanAMeeting. My initial role was to support a long-running and successful investigator-initiated research grantmaking program, and it has since evolved into managing several different grantmaking programs.
In this position, I have a front row seat to the research life cycle—from conception of a funding opportunity to the review and selection of the grantees and ultimately to the dissemination and use of study findings. What intrigued me initially and continues to energize me today are the activities I conduct at the intersection of research and policy—to bridge these two audiences to ensure that the best available evidence can inform decisions to improve health and health care when and where those decisions are being made.
When that particular grantmaking program came to an end in 2016 after nearly three decades, my colleagues and I applied the many lessons we learned from managing the program to support other special topic solicitations. Since 2016, we have managed numerous research grantmaking programs that reflect the breadth, diversity, and nimbleness of the health services and policy research field. With our funder, we’ve developed funding opportunities to address policy changes related to health insurance, Medicaid policy and managed care organizations, the use of big data in health care research, building trust and mutual respect to improve health care, and engaging the business sector in investing in community health, among other topics. Given our front row seat to these important issues, AcademyHealth serves as an information hub about ongoing research in these areas. If you’re attending the Annual Research Meeting this week, you’re sure to hear about some of this research, but publications and new findings are being released throughout the year and AcademyHealth members are the first to know through access to our e-newsletters.
Just like the field of health services research, these programs vary greatly, both in terms of the focus of the awarded research studies as well as the methods used by the investigators to ask and answer important research questions. Yet, despite their differences, they share a common challenge and opportunity: dissemination.
AcademyHealth works closely with the awarded grantees as they conduct their studies, and our approach to dissemination is two-fold. We offer opportunities for training to build grantees’ own skills and capacity to disseminate their findings. We also support their dissemination through tailored technical assistance. The technical assistance is, by design, as varied as the research studies themselves. Our activities can include arranging both off- and on-the-record briefings with key stakeholders as well as dissemination support, such as writing brief syntheses of published research findings to share with target audiences.
I refer to dissemination as an opportunity and a challenge because I know for many researchers it can be overwhelming. Communications trainings teach you that different channels reach different audiences, but it can be difficult and time-consuming (and perhaps even a bit unrealistic) for every researcher to utilize the full range of communication channels, from peer-reviewed journal articles to traditional and social media. When we work with grantees, we consider ways to leverage what the grantees produce and tailor them for a range of key audiences.
For example, several years ago we worked with Dr. Megan McHugh at Northwestern University, a grantee funded under the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Engaging Businesses for Health research portfolio. Dr. McHugh’s study examined the impact of community health on employee performance at American manufacturing companies. Dr. McHugh published study findings in the Journal of Community Health, and we worked with her to draft a Study Snapshot that succinctly summarized her study findings and implications for policy. This Snapshot was posted on the AcademyHealth website and shared via our communications channels for broad visibility. We also worked with Dr. McHugh to publish a Health Affairs blog post, and we drafted a companion post for the AcademyHealth blog. Finally, both AcademyHealth and Health Affairs tweeted about the blog posts. Ultimately, the 20th Surgeon General of the United States learned of Dr. McHugh’s study through her Health Affairs blog post, underscoring the importance of considering different channels and ways of building on your peer-reviewed publications. Staff from the Office of the Surgeon General connected with Dr. McHugh as they were preparing their report on Community Health and Economic Prosperity and cited findings from her study in the final report.
If you are presenting your findings at this year’s Annual Research Meeting or another event, I hope you will view this opportunity as just the beginning of your dissemination journey. Can you adapt an image from your presentation or poster for easy sharing on social media? Do your early findings lend themselves to a blog post?
If you answered yes to any of the above questions, you should know that AcademyHealth supports members’ dissemination efforts in multiple ways. We provide online events for practical skills such as Best Practices for Presenting Virtually, as well as handy tip sheets to help advance members’ impact such as Conducting Research that Impacts Health Systems: A Checklist. AcademyHealth also prioritizes member submissions to our blog, which is a great way to disseminate your work beyond conference attendees to our broad community including more than 20,000 social media followers. To submit a blog idea for our editors’ consideration, send a “pitch” (a short paragraph describing what the post will focus on and why it matters) to firstname.lastname@example.org.