Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: What’s That?
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: What’s That?

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), one of eight agencies within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is charged with conducting and supporting research to make healthcare safer, more accessible, higher quality, and more equitable and affordable. Doesn’t the National Institutes of Health (NIH) do that, you ask? Well, sort of.

In short, AHRQ focuses on healthcare effectiveness from a population-level perspective, whereas NIH is geared toward efficacy related to specific conditions. For example, AHRQ funds research related to patient safety, antibiotic overuse, care coordination for individuals with multiple chronic conditions, the use of electronic records in clinical decision-making, and improving access to addiction treatment in rural communities, all with an eye for cost containment. In contrast, NIH supports basic, clinical, and translational research on biomedical and behavioral issues such as the efficacy of a novel treatment approach for a specific disease in a targeted setting.

The perceived duplication between AHRQ and NIH was hotly contested in the summer of 2015, when the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee voted to completely eliminate funding for AHRQ, and the corresponding Senate committee voted to significantly reduce the Agency’s budget for FY16. An independent, bipartisan campaign emerged, whereby AHRQ received $334 million in budget authority for FY16 (down 8.2 percent from FY15); thus, AHRQ’s research portfolio continues. (Side note: AHRQ critics have also claimed duplication with PCORI, an independent research agency created through the Affordable Care Act, but that’s another story.)

In addition to funding research grants, AHRQ also supports training for researchers and issues reports on the nation’s healthcare system. Find current funding opportunities and learn from prior grantees here.

Many AHRQ grant opportunities use the “R18” activity code, which has standard due dates of January 25, May 25, and September 25 each year and a start date typically eight months thereafter. Examples of current grant opportunities include the following, both of which were issued in September 2016 for a three-year period.

Advances in Patient Safety through Simulation Research: AHRQ seeks applications that propose to develop, test, and evaluate a variety of simulation techniques that will improve the safe delivery of healthcare. AHRQ is seeking applications that address a variety of clinical settings including, but not limited to, hospitals, ambulatory surgery centers, primary care clinics, medical centers, schools of nursing, universities, community colleges, healthcare provider organizations, health systems, health professional associations, and quality and safety improvement organizations. AHRQ also urges a variety of simulation projects in all areas of healthcare that impact diverse patient populations, including priority populations (low-income groups; minority groups; women; children; the elderly; and individuals with special healthcare needs, including individuals with disabilities and individuals who need chronic care or end-of-life healthcare). Project periods may be up to five years, with total costs not to exceed $400,000 per year.

Advancing Patient Safety Implementation through Safe Medication Use Research: An important focus of AHRQ is improving healthcare outcomes, which includes reducing and preventing unsafe behaviors, processes, and policies of the Medication Use Process (prescribing, transcribing, dispensing, administration, and monitoring). The goal of this medication safety research is not only to prevent harm, but also to foster standardized and seamless practices and behaviors. Project periods may be up to three years, with total costs not to exceed $500,000 per year.