Using data to improve health care policy

September 8, 2017

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With a background in public health, Associate Professor Ellen Kurtzman’s research may be a bit non-traditional for a school of nursing, but it emphasizes the key role interdisciplinary collaboration plays.

With a bachelor of science in nursing to help inform her health care perspective, Dr. Kurtzman realized federal and state health care policies overlook the roles nurses play in delivering quality care. In 2014, she formed a unique relationship with the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the nation's principal health statistics agency and an office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  

“I have always struggled with how we fix health care when most federal and state polices don’t influence nurses who represent a large segment of the health care workforce and have a tremendous impact on the delivery of high quality care,” Dr. Kurtzman said. That struggle led her to apply for and conduct research as the 2014 NCHS/AcademyHealth Health Policy Fellow.

During her fellowship, Dr. Kurtzman used data from NHCS’ National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NAMCS) to identify patient visits to nurse practitioners (NPs) in community health centers (CHCs). She also examined how states’ occupational policies affect NP-delivered care.

Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many states revisited these occupational policies as insurance coverage expanded and demand for primary care increased.  

“For a long time, I’ve been interested in how state policies influence the quality of care and services delivered by NPs,” Dr. Kurtzman said. “The public has a right to know how these policies affect patient care especially as demand for these clinicians’ services has increased under health reform.”

After her fellowship ended in 2016, NCHS extended its relationship with Dr. Kurtzman and GW Nursing.

“I was asking important questions using NAMCS data,” Dr. Kurtzman said. She currently spends a day each week at NCHS, co-developing projects that explore health care delivery system innovations and their impacts on practitioners and the patients for whom they care.  Her latest policy paper, produced by the NCHS, concerns patient-centered medical homes as models of primary care.

“The people I’m working with are incredibly bright and committed to improvements in health for all Americans. Both GW and the NCHS are neighbors to the White House and other federal agencies,” Dr. Kurtzman said.