Fostering Rapid-Cycle Research at Health Affairs

By Susan Dentzer

Someone said to me recently, “I know why they call it research, because you search and you search and you search again.” Research takes time, but in a decade of constantly new developments in the medical field, we are faced with finding a way to incorporate our traditions while fostering new innovation.

This is an exciting time for academic medicine; there is a break from traditional research and a path toward “rapid-cycle research” where we must publish quality journal content as quickly as possible. We need to constantly keep the field aware of what other organizations are doing to foster health care transformation, how they are doing it, and what the early results are. 

 We are very much in a “here-and-now” mentality; our role at Health Affairs is to foster rapid-cycle research and journal content by rising to the challenges we are facing and recognizing that, with challenges, come many fantastic opportunities. There are many issues AMCs are facing that need to be talked about now — not in five or 10 years.

The number 1 challenge academic medicine is facing is determining how AMCs can play a leading intellectual and operational role in the reinvention of health care. It bears a great deal of thought and initiative; AMCs are not immune to the cost pressures facing the rest of the medical industry. We need to open our eyes to the possibility of doing things differently to provide cost-effective education and treatment.

Our opportunities come from rising to the challenges — by examining the ways we do things and implementing newer, shorter curricula. Our current system of academic medicine is out of balance. We need to ask ourselves whether we can shorten the medical school curriculum to modernize it and to reduce students’ burden of debt.

We all have the ability to move down this road and really be the intellectual leading edge of U.S. health care. The Triple Aim Initiative is one way payment reform goals have been implemented into academic medicine.  We have to implement the Affordable Care Act by 2014, and we have to lower costs today, not five years from now or 10 years from now. We have implemented ways to categorize innovations in our journal as we move into an area of publishing to meet the demands of rapid-cycle research while adhering to our standards.

We have invented things like “innovation profiles” or “practice profiles” which are not research per se, but very high-level reports and accounts of what individual organizations are doing or have done, their results, and very importantly, what challenges they have met in the course of doing their work as innovators.

Health Affairs plays an important role in facilitating positive change in academic medicine. We have our own challenges we face within our realm of appealing to a wider audience and publishing quality content in a timely fashion. Our opportunities come from understanding the need for quality content while keeping up with rapid-cycle research.

—Susan Dentzer is the Editor-in-Chief of Health Affairs and an on-air analyst on health issues for PBS NewsHour. She can be reached at