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National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR)

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Health Services Research Definitions

Below find several definitions of the field of health services research:
  • The integration of epidemiologic, sociological, economic, and other analytic sciences in the study of health services. Health services research is usually concerned with relationships between need, demand, supply, use, and outcome of health services. The aim of the research is evaluation, particularly in terms of structure, process, output, and outcome. (MeSH,* From Last, Dictionary of Epidemiology, 2d ed.)
  • Health services research can be loosely defined as scientific inquiry into the ways in which health services are delivered to various constituents (Forrest, C. B., Martin, D., Holve, E., & Millman, A. (2008. Health Services Research Doctoral Core Competencies. Final Report;, accessed 11/13/2009.)
  • Health services research is the multidisciplinary field of scientific investigation that studies how social factors, financing systems, organizational structures and processes, health technologies, and personal behaviors affect access to health care, the quality and cost of health care, and ultimately our health and well-being. Its research domains are individuals, families, organizations, institutions, communities, and populations. (Lohr KN, Steinwachs D. Health services research: an evolving definition of the field. Health Services Research 2002;37(1):7-9.)
  • Health services research affects a wide-range of issues, including consumer education; patient outcomes and effectiveness of care; health care quality; health care for minority, elderly, and other special populations; health care costs and financing; information for health care policymakers; and access to care and health care delivery. Health services researchers focus on some of the most complex and challenging issues currently affecting health care in the United States. Findings from health services research inform the health care policymaking process, lead to improvements in clinical practice, and help shape the manner in which health care will be delivered and paid for in the future.
  • Health services researchers examine health care quality and effectiveness, patient outcomes, access to care, health care costs and financing, primary and managed care, new technologies, and other critical topics. Health services researchers are pursuing careers in many settings, including academia, professional organizations, health policy groups, clinical settings, and in Federal, State, and local agencies. (AHRQ website,, acessed 11/13, 2009).

Additional Information

Further information on a history of health services research, to include its scope and significance, may be found in Chapter 8 of Patient Safety and Quality: An Evidence-Based Handbook for Nurses. A PDF of this chapter is accessible at: (Accessed 11/13/2009.)

HSR core competencies may be found in an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) final report from a 2008 conference to refine competencies common to all doctoral trained health services research professionals. This report is accessible at: (Accessed 11/13/2009.)

HSR Topic Definitions

What is Comparative Effectiveness Research (CER)?

Comparative effectiveness research, also known as Patient-Centered Outcomes Research (PCOR), is the conduct and synthesis of systematic research comparing different interventions and strategies to prevent, diagnose, treat and monitor health conditions. The purpose of this research is to inform patients, providers, and decision-makers, responding to their expressed needs, about which interventions are most effective for which patients under specific circumstances. To provide this information, comparative effectiveness research must assess a comprehensive array of health-related outcomes for diverse patient populations���[Internet.] Federal Coordinating Council for Comparative Effectiveness Research, definition; [cited 28 July 2010].

What is Evidence-Based Practice?

Evidence-Based Practice: "A way of providing health care that is guided by a thoughtful integration of the best available scientific knowledge with clinical expertise. This approach allows the practitioner to critically assess research data, clinical guidelines, and other information resources in order to correctly identify the clinical problem, apply the most high-quality intervention, and re-evaluate the outcome for future improvement." 2009 Medical Subject Headings (MeSH).

What is Health Technology Assessment (HTA)?

Health technology assessment (HTA): "The systematic evaluation of properties, effects, and/or impacts of health care technology. It may address the direct, intended consequences of technologies as well as their indirect, unintended consequences. Its main purpose is to inform technology-related policymaking in health care. HTA is conducted by interdisciplinary groups using explicit analytical frameworks drawing from a variety of methods." Goodman, Clifford S. HTA 101: Introduction to Health Technology Assessment, January 2004.

What are Healthcare Disparities?

Healthcare disparities refer to differences in access to or availability of facilities and services. Health status disparities refer to the variation in rates of disease occurrence and disabilities between socioeconomic and/or geographically defined population groups. [Both definitions are from the 2009 Medical Subject Headings (MeSH).]

What is Health Informatics?

Health Informatics is "the interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption and application of IT-based innovations in healthcare services delivery, management and planning." Procter, R. Dr. (Editor, Health Informatics Journal, Edinburgh, United Kingdom). Definition of health informatics [Internet]. Message to: Virginia Van Horne (Content Manager, HSR Information Central, Bethesda, MD). 2009 Aug 16 [cited 2009 Sept 21]. [1 paragraph]

What is Public Health Systems and Services Research (PHSSR)?

Public Health Services and Systems Research (PHSSR) examines questions that relate to the financing, organization and delivery of public health services - and how those factors translate to population health.

Some organizations refer to the field as Public Health Systems Research (PHSR), while others refer to it as Public Health Systems and Services Research (PHSSR). Although these terms are different, they refer to the same field of research, and are commonly used interchangeably.

With respect to HSR, how is Quality defined?

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) defined quality as "the degree to which health services for individuals and populations increase the likelihood of desired health outcomes and are consistent with current professional knowledge." [Internet]. Institute of Medicine, Committee on Quality of Health Care in America. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 2001 [cited 7 October 2010].