AHRQ's Gopal Khanna lays out his vision for the agency’s data-driven future

The new director of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) views health data as the key to improving outcomes and quality care, and he envisions the agency adopting a leading role to push health systems into the digital age.

Gopal Khanna, who was appointed the director of AHRQ in May, unveiled his four-part vision for “AHRQ 2.0” on Tuesday, which involves helping health systems evolve to utilize data and engaging healthcare leaders to meet that challenge.

“I believe passionately that the opportunities for using data from multiple sources to rethink and continuously improve our approach to patient care are nearly infinite,” he wrote in a blog post. “The time to seize these opportunities is now.”

Perhaps Khanna’s most challenging objective involves building what he calls a “data-driven digital enterprise platform” that leverages predictive analytics on existing data sets to drive policy decisions. Khanna said AHRQ researchers have already been using this type of approach to evaluate spikes in hospital care following recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida to better understand disaster response.

Khanna also wants to engage with health leaders across the country to improve data collection and build a "learning health system" that will drive patient safety enhancements. And by bringing those leaders together with state, federal and local partners, he wants to create an ecosystem of data that focuses on patient-centered solutions.

“This requires thinking beyond the walls of the traditional healthcare delivery system,” he wrote.

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It’s no surprise that Khanna would place such a high value on data given his robust IT history. As the director of the FRAMEWORK Project at Illinois' Healthcare and Human Services Innovation Incubator, he helped build a similar secure data platform that collects data from several agencies to provide a comprehensive view of residents that received various government services.

Prior to his work in Illinois, he served for five years as Minnesota’s first chief information officer before founding the Minnesota Innovation Lab.

However, Khanna could face some barriers when it comes to funding moving forward. Earlier this year, President Donald Trump’s proposed 2018 budget called for consolidating AHRQ within the National Institutes of Health, an agency that would see its budget slashed by $5.8 billion. The proposed cuts raised some concern among health IT groups that see AHRQ as an important catalyst for health IT research.

In 2015 and 2016, AHRQ spent nearly $50 million on health IT research, and Congress hasn't shown a willingness to follow through on the president's vision. A funding bill in the House sidestepped the president's proposed cuts, providing $300 million to the agency in 2018.