Health quality advocates have supported the idea of a Learning Health System (LHS) for decades. Now, in collaboration with the Center for Outcomes Effectiveness Research and Education (COERE), the UAB Health System is on a journey to develop and implement its own LHS principles to improve patient care.

Allyson Hall, Ph.D., co-director of COERE, and professor in the Department of Health Services Administration, along with Mike Mugavero, M.D., Director of the COERE and professor in the Department of Medicine, are tasked with providing strategic vision and leadership on behalf of COERE to advance the UAB Learning Health System.

"COERE serves as the research arm of the UAB LHS. The COERE leads a scientific and data gateway process collaborating with the UAB Informatics Institute and Center for Clinical and Translational Sciences. The "gateways" provide a structured approach to hone investigator-initiated health system-related research proposals and generate study-specific, analysis-ready health systems datasets via an integrated data extraction and transformation process." UAB Medicine

Born out of a desire to create synergy between clinical care, quality improvement efforts, and research, the UAB LHS serves a single, multi-faceted goal: to enhance UAB's ability to deliver world-class patient care to the residents of Alabama and beyond. 

"Clinical care; quality improvement; research: these areas go hand in hand," said Hall. "The LHS's purpose is to bring this idea to the forefront and expose how this is a cyclical process to improve the health system."

Establishing an intentional learning community 

Hall's involvement with COERE began during the pandemic when there was a call to participate in an extension of the Center—the COVID-19 Collaborative Outcome Research Enterprise (COVID CORE). The COVID CORE was a mechanism for researchers across campus to develop ideas, acquire data, and disseminate research related to COVID. Through collaborative research efforts focused on the pandemic, Hall measured the impact on individuals, populations, and the community. 

At the same time, there was significant interest in forming a Learning Health System at UAB. Mugavero and Tony Jones, M.D., chief physician executive of UAB Medicine, established a task force to develop an LHS strategy. The School of Medicine's Division of Preventive Medicine and UAB Medicine's Office of Clinical Practice Transformation sought the opinions of health system leaders, providers, and researchers on the value of an LHS to UAB.   

Their efforts were a success—this spring, the UAB's Health Services Foundation awarded the COERE funds to formally establish an LHS platform to support academic practice partnerships at UAB via the General Endowment Fund (HSF-GEF).   
The UAB LHS platform will build on the success of the COVID CORE and serve as a funnel to support project needs by assisting in generating research questions, data transformation, problem assessment, research design articulation, evaluation, and dissemination.

"Part of my role as program director for Healthcare Quality and Safety within the Department of Health Services Administration is to train my students on quality improvements and how to properly share their research findings," said Hall. "So, for me, serving the UAB LHS feels like a natural transition."

Cultivating strong collaboration  

"UAB has a strong foundation for success with the LHS," said Hall. "Our goal is to improve health within quality care, and we have the resources to do it. We've been focusing our efforts in pockets. Now, we have the opportunity to elevate our strengths by coming together as a more visible and transformational unit. Health care is a team sport—no one works by themselves and mimicking that on the research side is undeniably important." 

Hall will continue to work with other COERE leaders to identify and integrate existing programs and resources aligned with overarching UAB LHS goals, including the Dissemination, Implementation, and Improvement Sciences Core, led by Larry Hearld, Ph.D., associate director of COERE and associate professor in the Department of Health Services Administration. 

Among the COERE team is Heather Martin, a Ph.D. in Administration-Health Services student on the Health Informatics track and the inaugural UAB Learning Health System Fellow. Martin works closely with Hall to document and disseminate an evidence-based continuous improvement process, dubbed "The UAB Way." In this space, she is spearheading the creation of a foundational paper that will serve as a guide for others at UAB to share their research.

"LHS is the bridge between health care quality improvement and research," said Martin. "The UAB LHS gives me an opportunity to help researchers, practitioners, and patients by connecting research to continuous improvement."

Celebrating LHS Month 

Want to learn more about UAB LHS? Tune in at noon each Tuesday throughout March for a special five-week series. Hear from national leaders from other academic medical centers and panel discussions with UAB Health System Leaders. Attendees can expect: 
  •  UABHS leader perspectives on the importance of the LHS
  • The OneFlorida data repository that UAB is now a part of
  • How Accountable Care Teams are improving care within UABHS
  • The application of a learning health system model to improve care for patients with acute kidney injuries