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Learning from national implementation of the Veterans Affairs Clinical Resource Hub (CRH) program for improving access to care: protocol for a six year evaluation.

Rubenstein LV, Curtis I, Wheat CL, Grembowski DE, Stockdale SE, Kaboli PJ, Yoon J, Felker BL, Reddy AS, Nelson KM. Learning from national implementation of the Veterans Affairs Clinical Resource Hub (CRH) program for improving access to care: protocol for a six year evaluation. BMC health services research. 2023 Jul 25; 23(1):790.

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Abstract:

BACKGROUND: The Veterans Affairs (VA) Clinical Resource Hub (CRH) program aims to improve patient access to care by implementing time-limited, regionally based primary or mental health staffing support to cover local staffing vacancies. VA''s Office of Primary Care (OPC) designed CRH to support more than 1000 geographically disparate VA outpatient sites, many of which are in rural areas, by providing virtual contingency clinical staffing for sites experiencing primary care and mental health staffing deficits. The subsequently funded CRH evaluation, carried out by the VA Primary Care Analytics Team (PCAT), partnered with CRH program leaders and evaluation stakeholders to develop a protocol for a six-year CRH evaluation. The objectives for developing the CRH evaluation protocol were to prospectively: 1) identify the outcomes CRH aimed to achieve, and the key program elements designed to achieve them; 2) specify evaluation designs and data collection approaches for assessing CRH progress and success; and 3) guide the activities of five geographically dispersed evaluation teams. METHODS: The protocol documents a multi-method CRH program evaluation design with qualitative and quantitative elements. The evaluation''s overall goal is to assess CRH''s return on investment to the VA and Veterans at six years through synthesis of findings on program effectiveness. The evaluation includes both observational and quasi-experimental elements reflecting impacts at the national, regional, outpatient site, and patient levels. The protocol is based on program evaluation theory, implementation science frameworks, literature on contingency staffing, and iterative review and revision by both research and clinical operations partners. DISCUSSION: Health systems increasingly seek to use data to guide management and decision-making for newly implemented clinical programs and policies. Approaches for planning evaluations to accomplish this goal, however, are not well-established. By publishing the protocol, we aim to increase the validity and usefulness of subsequent evaluation findings. We also aim to provide an example of a program evaluation protocol developed within a learning health systems partnership.





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