March 4, 2024

How the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality is Advancing Women’s Health

By: Bria Fitz, MA, SWHR Public Policy Fellow

The Society for Women’s Health Research (SWHR) hosted the last Policy Advisory Council meeting of 2023 on December 6. The event kicked off with a guest presentation delivered by Emily Chew, MPH, Senior Advisor for Women’s Health at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). Chew’s presentation shed light on AHRQ’s pivotal role in improving health care delivery, and specifically exploring some of the agency’s work in women’s health.

AHRQ, as Chew highlighted, operates at the forefront of health care improvement by spearheading initiatives aimed at generating scientific evidence and translating it into actionable knowledge. The agency’s approach includes bridging the gap between evidence and practice while monitoring and gaining feedback from stakeholders. Central to AHRQ’s mission is the enhancement of health care system performance and resilience as well as the expansion of access to high-quality, affordable health care. Through its research portfolio, AHRQ delves into critical areas of women’s health, ranging from maternal mortality and ovarian cancer to HIV/STI prevention and disparities in lung cancer among Black women.

AHRQ is one of the agencies supporting the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research. It is worth noting that while AHRQ does not directly formulate policy recommendations, it aims to leverage the wealth of evidence it generates to drive meaningful advancements in women’s health research and practice. As Chew articulated, the agency’s focus lies in “harness[ing] the power of the evidence we have created to inform change.”

One of AHRQ’s notable initiatives is its Effective Health Care (EHC) Program, a cornerstone of its Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC). Through this program, AHRQ seeks to “improve the quality of healthcare by providing the best available evidence on the benefits and harms of drugs, devices, and healthcare services.” Relevant to women’s health, the agency’s 2022 report on “Respectful Maternity Care” underscores AHRQ’s commitment to promoting dignified and equitable maternal health care practices.

Furthermore, AHRQ’s Safety Program in Perinatal Care underscores its proactive stance in ensuring patient safety during labor and delivery. The Safety Program’s mission, said Chew, is to “move the needle and make improvements in labor and delivery units related to patient safety.” Among its outputs, this program has developed Toolkits to Reduce Hypertension in Pregnancy and Obstetric Hemorrhage to better enable states to use tools developed by the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health.

Chew’s presentation effectively showcased how federal agencies have a complementary approach in advancing efforts that prioritize and optimize women’s health.

Learn more about AHRQ at https://www.ahrq.gov/.