Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality

AHRQ is marking its 20th anniversary. Over the past 20 years, AHRQ has been an invaluable resource to all Americans who care about improving healthcare, providing the quality research and data that have helped Americans get more value from the healthcare they receive, and, ultimately, enjoy better health.


Research funded by AHRQ focuses on the delivery of effective and efficient medical care, and is essential in preventing dangerous and deadly medical errors, and promoting the right care at the right time in the right health care settings. The agency provides research and data that is essential to delivering patients efficient, safe and effective treatments. Due to AHRQ-sponsored efforts, the nationwide Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program led to a 41% reduction in infections in intensive care units, and a 32% reduction in catheter-associated urinary tract infections. 




NOTE: Does not include supplemental funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Sources: AHRQ, House Committee on Appropriations.

Americans Support Increased Funding for AHRQ

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is the federal agency charged with funding health services research, which seeks to rapidly translate discoveries from research into medical practice and improve the quality, safety and effectiveness of health care. Which of the following statements most accurately reflects your view?


Source: A Research!America poll of U.S. adults conducted in partnership with Zogby Analytics in January 2017.



Improving Health Care Decade by Decade

A 1999 Institute of Medicine report put it well: To Err is Human. However, the U.S. long lacked federal research infrastructure to assess and address errors affecting the quality of our health and medical systems [1]. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) tackles this and other crucial health delivery challenges by funding health services research and disseminating information to ensure that all patients receive excellent evidence-based care. In the hands of AHRQ, databases and checklists are powerful tools that have saved both lives and money. Between 2014 and 2017, research supported by AHRQ reduced the number of hospital-acquired conditions – like infections and adverse drug events – by 910,000, preventing 20,500 hospital deaths and saving $7.7 billion in health care costs [2].


Research!America is not the only organization celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2019. AHRQ was established in the same year, 1989, and was originally called the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research (AHCPR). An agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), AHCPR was tasked with improving the safety and quality of health care in the U.S. by facilitating and funding research. In 1999, Congress reauthorized the agency under a new name – AHRQ – allowing this important work to continue [3]. Today, AHRQ continues to advocate for evidence-based improvements to U.S. health care. The agency’s mission sums it up well [4]:

AHRQ keeps patients safe and ensures high quality health care.

Health care professionals work hard to provide the best care possible, but it can be difficult to identify systemic issues from the inside. AHRQ-funded research provides a valuable big-picture perspective – sometimes even a small change makes a huge difference. One AHRQ-funded study found something as straightforward  as a skin sanitizing regimen can reduce an at-risk patient’s chance of acquiring a potentially life-threatening antibiotic-resistant MRSA infection by 30% [5].

AHRQ also empowers hospitals to assess themselves based on their own inpatient data. Quality Indicators (QIs) are measures created by AHRQ that hospitals can use to evaluate and improve the quality of their health care. QIs have also spread beyond internal improvement – the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) uses QIs on the CMS Hospital Compare site [6], which allows anyone to obtain hospital information ranging from rates of complications and deaths to psychiatric unit services [7]. Best of all? These resources are free.

AHRQ cuts health care costs

Another AHRQ initiative, the Comprehensive Unit-based Safety Program (CUSP), develops toolkits promoting best practices for clinical teams [8]. Improvements in safety from CUSP have been well-documented, but in addition, remarkable cost savings have followed.

In 2017, a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine followed nursing homes that adapted CUSP guidelines to reduce catheter-associated urinary tract infections (CAUTIs). CAUTIs are common in nursing homes and can result in severe illness, leading to large costs. The study’s findings were significant – within two years, CAUTI rates among patients dropped by 54% across more than 400 facilities, which translated to significant savings [9].

Similarly, when the Tennessee Hospital Association (THA) implemented CUSP guidelines paired with AHRQ Re-Engineered Discharge toolkits, they saved $17 million between 2012 and 2014 by reducing safety challenges – like CAUTIs and mobility-related injuries – by more than 1,000 and readmission by 1,500 [10]. Once again, more safety translated to more savings. 

AHRQ makes health care accessible and equitable.

However, trainings like CUSP only work if there are health care professionals to train, and in rural areas, there are only 30 specialty care providers per 100,000 patients versus 260 per 100,000 patients in urban areas [11]. (Read more about rural health research here.)


In 2003, AHRQ funded a program in New Mexico bridging this accessibility gap: Project Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes, or Project ECHO [12]. Using telehealth, Project ECHO connects specialty physicians in urban areas with primary care physicians working with underserved populations [13]. Studies – like this one in the New England Journal of Medicine – have shown that Project ECHO is effective [14]. Today, Project ECHO has expanded on a global scale – as of August 2019, the initiative has 322 specialist hubs in 37 countries, and a total of 677 programs [15]. By investing in this idea, AHRQ facilitated greater equity in health care accessibility both in the U.S. and around the world.

Now it’s our turn.

Whether ensuring we receive a correct diagnosis or preventing us from contracting hospital-acquired infection, AHRQ touches each of our lives [16]. And two important results of AHRQ’s work go hand-in-hand – improving medical outcomes and saving money. However, though Americans spent $3.65 trillion on health care in 2018 [17], AHRQ received just $333 million in federal funding [18]. That was less than 0.01% of total federal spending [19].

AHRQ-funded research is critical to ensuring our health care system achieves its full potential, so everyone benefits from medical progress and we get the most out of each health care dollar spent. It is more than worth it to invest in AHRQ – it is essential to the well-being of our nation.




Policy Contacts

Without continued support for health research, many of the most promising young scientists, their ideas and a myriad of potentially life-changing scientific breakthroughs will vanish into oblivion.
Paul Marinec, PhD; University of California San Francisco