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What is Health Outcomes Research?

Cate Gee
Cate Gee

Health outcomes research is the study of the best practices, risks, and outcomes of healthcare practice and administration. By evaluating measurable data generated by health interventions, healthcare professionals, researchers, policymakers and others analyze healthcare delivery mechanisms. This information helps to set direction for change and improvement across the spectrum of health care. The central principle of health outcomes research is that every clinical intervention or course of therapy — from office visits to hospital admissions to educational events to diet plans — can be measured, impacts the patient’s health status, and may be improved on in the future.

The goal of health outcomes research is to understand the link between the therapy patients receive and the end results they experience. By studying this connection, health outcomes research offers opportunities to improve overall quality of life, increase the value of care, address barriers to care, and develop plans for the continuous improvement of care. Researchers analyze data about different populations and consider factors such as gender, age, race, chronic condition, income level, lifestyle, and much more. In clinical situations, a physician might use the results of this research to assess a patient’s needs and develop a care plan that helps determine appropriate interventions to maintain or improve the patient’s health.


Health outcomes research in medicine focuses on three areas of improvement: clinical outcomes, administration, and cost. Clinical outcomes are the results of any care intervention, which could be a routine office visit, a flu shot, a lung transplant, or even death. By studying the metrics of care and analyzing their outcomes, researchers help to determine the best practices for care delivery. For example, a health outcomes research study may analyze rates of recovery for heart surgery patients who undergo an experimental technique. That data may be used by healthcare professionals and administrators to determine if that technique is more or less effective than traditional surgeries in reducing patient suffering.

Research on healthcare administration addresses the outcomes of various types of administrative metrics. It helps to determine appropriate staffing levels, processes of delivery, efficiency, training, costs, policies and procedures, billing procedures, safety, and more. Health outcomes research also considers the costs of providing care and the overall return on investment in terms of health outcomes. This information can help providers, administrators, health systems and policymakers to balance considerations such as cost, risk, preventative measures, and projected outcomes.

Health outcomes research depends on measurable data, which may be collected in a number of ways. Researchers may study patient physiology, or the status of a patient’s physical and mental health, including symptoms and past health history. In cases where medical intervention is required, researchers analyze data collected at clinical events, such as a hospital admission necessitated by a heart attack. Relevant data also includes morbidity and mortality metrics, which concern the processes of living with illness and dying, respectively. Finally, health outcomes research may center on data collected through survey instruments, such as questionnaires circulated by national healthcare organizations, and patient evaluations that provide valuable patient-reported data to researchers.

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