NW HERON network: Building capacity

Strengthening the Northwest Health Education and Research Outcomes Network:

Building Capacity for Patient-Centered Outcomes Research in Washington State in Partnership with Rural, Tribal, and Urban Medically Underserved Primary Care Facilities

Principal Investigators: Patrik Johansson, MD, MPH, Director, and Cole Allick, MPH, Tribal Liaison

The Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, IREACH, and the Health Equity Research Center have partnered with regional health care facilities to establish the Northwest Health Education and Research Outcomes Network (NW HERON) practice-based research network (PBRN). Aligned with the land grant missions of WSU and the College of Medicine, NW HERON aims to enhance the health and health care of residents of our state and region, especially rural, tribal, and other underserved populations. Its first meeting in November 2018 drew representatives from 11 clinics, including 2 tribes. NW HERON has enjoyed rapid growth since then: today it has 200 clinical sites – 12 tribal partners – affiliated with the College of Medicine through memoranda of agreement. In the last year NW HERON has garnered $1.7 million in funding and has $13 million in grant funding pending. NW HERON is therefore poised to become an influential PBRN with the potential to facilitate groundbreaking health disparities research in service of rural, American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN), and other minority communities. However, it cannot achieve its full potential without patient, consumer, provider, and other stakeholder input.

NW HERON currently lacks the patient-informed data essential for conducting patient-centered outcomes research (PCOR). PCOR helps patients and public health stakeholders make informed health care decisions and improves health care delivery and outcomes. PCOR produces rigorous, evidence-based information derived from patient, provider, and community-driven research, and the broader health care community. Patient engagement in research helps researchers ask the right questions. In 2020, we surveyed administrators of 35 primary care facilities in Washington to identify their main clinical concerns. Results showed that behavioral health and COVID-19 were the top 2 concerns, and NW HERON is currently engaged in research activities to address these priorities for our service population. However, we have not yet collected analogous input from patients, clinicians, or public health professionals associated with NW HERON-affiliated facilities and the communities they represent. Obtaining this information—especially from patients—is critical to the Network’s mission to enhance the health and health care of Washington State residents. Furthermore, we lack a cloud-based collaborative communication platform in which to engage patients. The project will allow us to orient our PBRN around PCOR and to enhance our engagement efforts.

This project will remediate the lack of information about health-related research priorities collected from patients and other stakeholders, i.e., clinicians and public health professionals, in NW HERON service areas. It will also support the creation of a communication platform linking members of a community advisory board (CAB) and NW HERON.