What allows a health care system to become a learning health care system: Results from interviews with health system leaders

Stephanie R. Morain, Nancy E. Kass, Claudia Grossmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Introduction: The US health care system faces pressure to improve quality while managing complexity, curbing costs, and reducing inefficiency. These shortcomings have sparked interest in the Learning Health Care System (LHCS) as an alternate approach to organizing research and clinical care. Although diverse stakeholders have expressed support for moving toward an LHCS model, limited guidance exists for institutions considering such a transition. Methods: Interviews were conducted with institutional leaders from 25 health care systems considered to be at the forefront of LHCS. Interviews focused on the process of transitioning toward an LHCS, including motivations for change, key components, challenges encountered, and strategies for success, and on ethics and regulatory issues encountered. Qualitative analysis identified key themes across institutions. Results: Respondents described 5 themes related to the origin of their LHCS transformation: (1) visionary leadership or influence of a key individual, (2) adaptation to a changing health care landscape, (3) external funding, (4) regulatory or legislative influence, and (5) mergers or expansions. They described 6 challenges: (1) organizational culture, (2) data systems and data sharing, (3) funding learning activities, (4) limited supply of skilled individuals, (5) managing competing priorities, and (6) regulatory challenges. Finally, they suggested 8 strategies to support transformation: (1) strong leadership, (2) setting a limited number of organizational priorities, (3) building on existing strengths, (4) training programs, (5) “purposeful” design of data systems, (6) internal transparency of quality metrics, (7) payer/provider integration, and, within academic medical centers, (8) academic/clinical integration. Conclusions: Even institutions at the forefront of LHCS described the transition as difficult. Their experiences provide insight into other institutions considering similar transitions, including elements essential for success and likely challenges.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere10015
JournalLearning Health Systems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2017


  • delivery of health care
  • learning health system
  • quality of health care

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health Informatics
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Information Management


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