veteran's day

Making Veterans Research Patient-Centered

As the country takes time this month to recognize and thank our veterans, I am pleased to be a part of an organization that has a dedicated focus on research aimed at improving health outcomes for our nation’s estimated 20 million former service members.

PCORI has funded nearly 30 comparative clinical effectiveness research studies that involve or are recruiting veterans, are based at Veterans Affairs (VA) centers, or focus on conditions that are especially relevant to veterans and those who care for them. PCORI encourages the engagement of patients and others to ensure a patient-centered research culture, and veteran’s research is one area where this approach is particularly critical.

We have heard from researchers that PCORI’s resources and staff have helped shape their work involving veterans and aided their efforts to make research more patient-centered. This is good news, because it means that this research is more focused on what matters to veterans, their families, and those who care for them.


PCORI Resources Help Denver, Boston VA Engage Veterans

We recently heard from a health science specialist at the Denver VA Medical Center, who let us know that PCORI’s engagement resources have been valuable in building and managing a national veteran engagement board that works with researchers to ensure veterans are partners in the research process. The team used PCORI’s website, trainings, and Engagement Tool and Resource Repository to help develop a plan for the board; recruit, interview, and select members of the board; and ensure the board’s diversity.

We also learned from a team of Boston VA Research Institute investigators, who are currently conducting a PCORI-funded study, that PCORI’s resources are benefitting their work studying the impact of COVID-19-related policy changes on medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for patients with opioid-use disorder. MAT is a treatment approach that provides patients with medication to reduce opioid cravings and withdrawal symptoms. MAT can help prevent opioid overdose, but research is necessary to determine how regulatory changes, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have affected its use and efficacy. While all the team members on this project are experienced investigators, they were nonetheless bolstered by PCORI’s support of patient engagement and its partnership with the research team.

As of July 2021, PCORI has awarded $134 million to fund 26 comparative clinical effectiveness research studies that either involve veterans or focus on conditions highly relevant to them.

Continually Seeking to Engage Veterans

PCORI’s funded projects focused on veterans’ health seek to answer a range of questions that are important to veterans and their healthcare providers, addressing topics such as lung cancer screening, treatment for posttraumatic stress disorder, chronic pain, cardiac care, and more. We are actively engaging with veterans’ communities to ensure they participate in research and help produce results that are more meaningful and more likely to be taken up into practice.

In one project, the Veterans’ Action League (VAL): Building Capacity to Engage Veterans in PCOR and CER Activities project, led by a team at Florida Atlantic University, set out to engage veterans and key stakeholders in discussions about patient-centered outcomes research (PCOR) and comparative clinical effectiveness research (CER) to increase understanding of what veterans need to make better-informed health and healthcare decisions and uncover the knowledge gaps and research priorities within this population. The team went on to launch a second project to develop a national veteran-centered chronic pain research agenda and was granted a COVID-19 enhancement award to increase veterans’ capacity for social engagement during a time of social distancing and isolation.

In another project, a team from the University of Texas at Austin developed the Veteran Spouse Network, an online forum for veteran spouses that provides training in research methods and opportunities to dialogue with research investigators studying veteran families’ mental health practices.

Kristin Walker, a human resources manager at PCORI, shared that our efforts to improve health outcomes for veterans and their families, particularly spouses, and engage them in research have great value.

“As the wife of a former Navy sailor (who is currently in the Army National Guard), I’m pleased to see the emphasis PCORI places on not only veterans, but also the needs of their spouses, because our lifestyles and experiences are often impacted too,” she said.  “Resources for spouses are just as important.”

I am grateful to our veterans for their commitment to and sacrifice for our country and am proud to lead PCORI as we continue to make the research process more relevant and accessible to them.

Photo by Samuel Branch on Unsplash

Nakela Cook, MD, MPH

View posts by Nakela Cook, MD, MPH
Nakela L. Cook, MD, MPH, is Executive Director at the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). She is a cardiologist and health services researcher with a distinguished career leading key scientific initiatives engaging patients, clinicians, and other healthcare stakeholders at one of the nation’s largest public health research funders. Throughout her career, Cook has worked to enhance diversity and equity in research and care delivery and been a leader in efforts to reduce disparities in health access and outcomes. She has received numerous awards for her excellence in clinical teaching and mentorship as well as her leadership of complex scientific initiatives and programs.

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