A: While it is important to understand how many health professionals there are and in which professions, specialties, employment settings, and geographic locations they practice, health workforce research is moving beyond understanding supply to better understanding demand for health professionals, how they are training and practicing, how they impact the quadruple aim, and how to more effectively plan for the future. The Global Health Workforce Alliance reports, “The current discourse on HRH is evolving from an exclusive focus on availability of health workers – ie, numbers – towards according equal importance to accessibility, acceptability, quality and performance.”
A special issue of Health Services Research in 2017 provides a summary and examples for how health workforce research is evolving. Washko and Fennell summarize 4 main themes, including “(1) the changing roles of health care providers, (2) the changing combinations of different providers who work together to deliver care, (3) the impact of these workforce changes on quality of care and access to care, and (4) advances in methodological challenges inherent in the study of evolving health workforce changes.”
HRSA has funded 7 Health Workforce Research Centers (HWRCs) to conduct and disseminate “rigorous research that strengthens evidence-based policy and enhances government’s and the public’s understanding of issues and trends in the health workforce” to help inform health workforce planning and policy. The HWRCs’ research focuses on allied health, behavioral health, ”emerging topics”, long-term care, oral health, and technical assistance. In 2017, the George Washington University HWRC compiled a report, Health Workforce Centers (HWRCs) Key Findings, 2013-2016, that identifies 3 main themes in the HWRCs’ work, including understanding the evolving health workforce configuration; spotlighting job growth and career paths in middle- and low-skilled health professions; and identifying workforce strategies to increase access to high-quality health care.