HCFO Year in Review

Publication Date: 
January 17, 2013

In 2012, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) celebrated 40 years of improving health and health care. At its 40th Anniversary Connections Conference, Foundation leadership underscored the many reasons for RWJF’s success. Among these is that the Foundation is an evidence-based organization. As RWJF Vice President David Colby noted, “it is our grounding.” President & CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey looked forward to the next 40 years, identifying opportunities for future investment. These included addressing the challenges of health care spending and delivery system innovation. She also noted the great potential of the power of data and the growing number of tools designed to monitor, track and disseminate health information.

HCFO has proudly contributed to the Foundation’s distinguished history. The work we accomplished in 2012 affirms RWJF’s reputation as an evidence-based organization and positions the program well to respond to the Foundation’s future goals.

Supporting Researchers


The work starts here with those who produce timely, policy-relevant research. The seven grants funded in 2012 address important issues stemming from the implementation and roll-out of health reform.


We believe strongly in our commitment to supporting the field, including the development of new and diverse researchers. In that vein, HCFO conducted webinars in 2012 focused on the use of traditional and new data sources and tools important to research on health care financing and organization topics. 

  • “The Health and Retirement Study: The Best Data Source You’re Not Using”

The Health and Retirement Study (HRS) is a major panel providing data for researchers seeking to explore issues related to the health, decisions, choices and behaviors of individuals as they age. HCFO hosted a webinar on best practices for obtaining and using HRS data. The event featured HCFO researchers Andrew Sfekas and Helen Levy. The webinar recording and materials can be accessed online.

  • “Leveraging Mobile Health (mHealth) Solutions for Health Services Research (HSR) – 4 Part Series”

This webinar series was on opportunities to leverage mHealth tools to meet the practical needs of health services researchers. The four webinars were designed to provide useful insights into the array of available tools, the process of adoption, and the ultimate analysis and application of data generated using these tools. An archive of this series is available online.

Informing Policymakers

The Affordable Care Act requires that Medicare implement a value based payment modifier program, which is based on physician performance and designed to improve quality and efficiency.  In 2012, HCFO sponsored a meeting of experts, whose input was designed to assist policymakers in grounding the development and implementation of the program in a strong evidence base. The meeting discussion was captured in a report published by HCFO.

Linking Researchers and Policymakers

Seeking Policymaker Input on Grants

A hallmark of HCFO is its investment in policy-relevant research.  In reviewing proposals, a primary consideration for funding is whether the study is timely and likely to inform actionable policy. While we have a good understanding of issues likely to be of interest to policymakers in the near term, it occurred to us that soliciting input from decisionmakers at the start of a grant would only make the study more useful upon completion.

We tested this theory in 2012 when we connected grantee Mark Hall, J.D., Wake Forest University, with state decision makers. As part of his grant, Hall planned to interview individuals in Massachusetts knowledgable about small business participation in the Massachusetts Connector. HCFO staff invited state decision makers, working with the RWJF State Network program, to provide input to Hall on the questions they would most like to have answered. A second discussion was held at the mid-point of the grant. This was a unique opportunity for states to inform a research project and for the grantee to conduct a study that would be most useful to the end users of the findings. HCFO will continue to look for ways to make those early connections at the start of a grant.

Grantee Briefings

A HCFO activity lauded by both researchers and policymakers is the grantee briefing. The briefings are designed to ensure that policymakers are aware of important research, even before those studies are published. Policymakers are invited to an “early look” at evidence that can help inform their decision-making. The grantees receive feedback from attendees on future analyses and ways to strengthen manuscripts. The briefings also serve as a connection point, identifying the “go-to” experts for policymakers on various topics.

In 2012, two HCFO grantees participated in briefings:

In-person Meetings with Policymakers

In addition to grantee briefings convened at AcademyHealth, HCFO staff is working to connect grantees more directly with policymakers. This year, Bradley Herring, Ph.D., met with Congressional Budget Office staff at their offices and presented findings from his study examining the effects hospital concentration on insurance market prices. The setting facilitated candid, in-depth discussion about Herring’s methodology and preliminary findings. Herring received positive feedback on the value of the study to inform decision-making, along with suggestions on additional analyses to consider.

Study Snapshots

In an effort to make findings from HCFO-funded projects more accessible to our policy audience, we launched the “Study Snapshot” publication series. These one-page documents capture the key findings from a study and describe the complexities of the research.  We released two Snapshots in 2012:

HCFO Findings Briefs

In addition to the Snapshots, HCFO staff publishes Findings Briefs, which are designed to reach a broad range of audiences. In this publication, staff summarizes the work of a grantee and discusses important policy implications of the study findings. In 2012, we produced the following briefs:

Grantee Publications

The high quality of HCFO grantees’ work is most clearly demonstrated in their peer-reviewed publications. In 2012, grantees published 14 articles in a variety of journals.


The 2012 lesson for HCFO is that the many facets of the program combine to ensure that strong evidence is available to inform policies to improve health and health care. Going forward, we will build on the program’s 20+ year history, enhancing those products and services that are most effective and creating new and innovative ways to support the producers and users of health services research.