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Improving the health system and providing better healthcare

Primary-care doctors, specialists, hospitals, community health clinics – all provide care to people in need. We can make big improvements in the health of the most vulnerable people in our communities by helping everyone get better access to healthcare, improving the quality of the care they receive and making sure it is provided at a reasonable price. But doing so is not easy, and requires addressing a number of challenging questions, including:

  • Why does the structure of the U.S. health system contributes to increased health disparities and what can be done to reduce those disparities?
  • Why does the U.S. system costs so much compared to the rest of the world and what can be done to lower costs?
  • Why are there variations across hospitals and regions in the type and quality of care people receive, and what can we do to ensure everyone has access to  quality services?


The field of health services research (HSR) addresses all these issues. HSR examines how people get access to healthcare, how much care costs and what happens to patients as a result of this care.


The main goals of health services research are to identify the most effective ways to organize, manage, finance and deliver high-quality care; reduce medical errors; and improve patient safety (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, 2002). HSR tends to be multidisciplinary, and with researchers coming from a variety of disciplines, including:

  • Clinical fields of medicine, nursing, dentistry and allied health
  • Social and behavioral sciences
  • Human factors engineering
  • Epidemiology and biostatistics
  • Multidisciplinary perspectives from healthcare policy, research, administration and management


Health services researchers investigate how various factors — including social forces, financing mechanisms, organizational processes and structures, evolving health technologies and individual behavior — act separately and together to affect the delivery of healthcare and, ultimately, the health and well being of people.


They pursue careers in many settings, including academia, professional organizations, health policy groups, clinical settings, and in federal, state and local agencies. Examples of topics explored by HSR include: