How's Robert Wood Johnson's Report Card Look?

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) recently granted $7.3 million to Penn State to help the university evaluate RWJF's own program — Aligning Forces for Quality (AF4Q). (See RWJF: Grants for Health Policy and Access.) The initiative, which has been around since 2006, targets specific communities to help raise the quality of health care. In the process, RWJF hopes to find models that can work in other communities or for the nation as a whole. AF4Q encapsulates 16 regions across the country that together make up an eighth of the U.S. population.

After six years, RWJF wants to know how well AF4Q is working. So it's funding the work of Dennis Scanlon, a professor of health policy and administration in Penn State's College of Health and Human Development. Scanlon and his colleagues will be taking a closer look at how the program has affected patients with chronic illnesses and at whether the structural changes AF4Q have encouraged have led to better outcomes and less expensive care.

Scanlon and RWJF see the 16 AF4Q communities as laboratories of heath-care reform, where, as Scanlon says, providers, insurers, and patients can innovate and experiment to find new ways of addressing old problems. On its website, AF4Q lists some of the successes it has seen within its communities:

  • Data on quality, cost, and patient experience measures are being collected and publicly reported.
  • Practice coaches are deployed in hundreds of primary care practices.
  • Hospitals are improving care from emergency department to bedside.
  • Patients are playing a crucial part in transforming health care.
  • New models for care delivery and organization are being tested and implemented.
  • Innovative payment reform is becoming a reality.

RWJF sees AF4Q as its "signature program to lift the overall quality of health care in targeted communities and provide real models for reform," which is significant for a foundation that establishes as its mission to "improve the health and health care of all Americans."

Grantees interested in health care-related RWJF funding would do well to integrate the strategies of AF4Q into their own proposals. It's clear that RWJF sees the initiative as its flagship program.