As 2021 begins, PCORI launches this new year with renewed energy and ambitious goals, inspiring our leadership in patient-centered outcomes research amid challenges that are transforming the nation’s healthcare and research sectors.

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PCORI Leadership by PCORI Executive Director Nakela L. Cook, MD, MPH.
Nakela L. Cook, MD, MPH
Executive Director, PCORI

This year, we will refresh our National Priorities and Research Agenda, the culmination of input and thoughtful advice from our stakeholders to frame PCORI’s funding and initiatives in our next phase of service to the nation. We will embark on new endeavors that will optimize the pursuit of our vision, strategy, and goals.

Our work will be grounded in the achievements of PCORI’s first decade and strengthened by the lessons we learned last year.

Lessons of 2020

In a tumultuous year that altered our nation, patient care, research, and the health enterprise, PCORI learned valuable lessons that we will carry forward.

Valuable Experiences: We are building on our response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to be a significant stress test on public health and health care, but also a learning opportunity. We observed and continue to witness natural experiments occurring all around us, and an intensification of efforts and attention focused on achieving health equity. Adaptations in care delivery are occurring out of necessity, including increasing adoption and utilization of telehealth, while hospitals and health systems are partnering, communicating, and learning from one another in ways that previously did not exist.

Aspects of engagement changed as well with virtual convenings and new questions and evidence needs identified across stakeholder groups.

Amid this pandemic of unprecedented impact and scale, we are also grappling with a crisis related to racism, discrimination, and inequities. These dual public health crises, which are disproportionately claiming the lives of people of color, have focused public attention on the root causes of longstanding health disparities in this country.

Approaches are needed that seek to further understand and intervene upon the complex drivers of these disparate outcomes, including the traditionally studied issues of environmental and socioeconomic factors, as well as racism, discrimination, and bias and their broader health implications.

Data-Driven Discovery: The exchange of COVID-19 knowledge across the government and the private sector, starting with the early sharing of the genetic sequencing of the virus, was a critical element in vaccine efforts and represents an encouraging model for groundbreaking research.

We have seen the sharing and leveraging of data and technology for real-time information that describes risks, outcomes, and variations in care patterns and reveals opportunities for transforming health care and accelerating research results to care delivery. Data-driven practice and sharing is a crucial component to the future of health science, as researchers generate information that can inform the practice of clinical care, speed breakthroughs, and provide important insights into health.

One example is PCORnet®, the National Patient-Centered Clinical Research Network, a PCORI-funded initiative to enable clinical research to be conducted faster, easier, and more efficiently by tapping into rich sources of real-world health data. This investment in research infrastructure enabled PCORI’s rapid pivot to fund COVID-related data collection, support a registry for research related to the well-being of healthcare workers during the pandemic, and pursue important issues related to vaccination.

Our opportunities for the future stem from aligning with and leveraging the evolution of our healthcare and research landscape in an era of big data and enhanced data infrastructure. This can enable us to match the need for speeding results and information to patients with maintaining the precision of scientific endeavors, ultimately reducing the time from evidence to uptake.

Leadership: Among the leadership lessons has been a drive toward enhanced collaboration and connectivity, across and within sectors and communities. PCORI must remain flexible, adaptable, and resilient in our day-to-day work and turn quickly and nimbly to address unpredictable and unforeseen events as they occur.

We are ensuring these lessons are integrated into the way we do research differently.

We will innovate to advance patient-centered learning health care, rapid cycles of evidence to implementation, and pragmatic approaches to improve health equity.

Our Focus Ahead

The enormous opportunities before us will help PCORI evolve our research, engagement, and dissemination and implementation programs, as well as advance our mission to provide evidence-based information that helps people make better-informed health decisions.

Research Funding: PCORI will seek to balance accelerating the pace of discovery with the immediacy of providing information to patients. We will collaborate and coordinate across the health research enterprise, across public and private sectors, multiple health settings, and disciplines to enhance the knowledge of patients and the broad healthcare community.

Among our research priorities are maternal morbidity and mortality and intellectual and developmental disabilities. PCORI plans to release a range of funding opportunities and evidence products for both priorities in the next several years.

Engagement, Dissemination, and Implementation: We have long recognized the importance of engaging the public in science and in our work. We have the opportunity for new and sustained partnerships, as well as ongoing diverse stakeholder inclusion in priority setting and topic selection. With these elements, we can have a demonstrable impact with patients, payers, systems, and the broader healthcare community as partners for dissemination and uptake, thus maintaining PCORI as an integral element in the research ecosystem.

We will innovate to advance patient-centered learning health care, rapid cycles of evidence to implementation, and pragmatic approaches to improve health equity. With this, we have the potential for impacts that include near real-time implementation of findings, uptake into guidelines in clinical care, and reduced variations in care.

Join Us: We invite you to partner with us throughout the year by responding to our funding opportunities, joining an advisory panel, becoming a peer reviewer, and contributing to our Strategic Planning efforts.

We begin this new year strengthened by the lessons of the past and buoyed by optimism and hope. Along the way, we may face obstacles, but we will keep in mind Martin Luther King Jr.’s inspiring words: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

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