Keeping it Real at the Institute of Medicine

Robyn's Read | October 08, 2015

Robyn Stone has been appointed to the Board on Health Sciences Policy at the Institute of Medicine (IOM). She's the only member who comes directly from the field of long-term services and supports. And that distinction is shaping her role on the board.

The Board on Health Sciences Policy at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) has 18 members, including 9 physicians, 6 PhDs, and 2 attorneys.

Most of the members work in academia, serving as professors and researchers in such areas as bioethics, biomedical science, emergency medicine, nursing, health policy, law, and ethics.

The group also includes physicians practicing in prestigious medical centers and public health agencies, a venture capitalist, and a health advocate.

And then there’s me.

I’m one of the newest members of the Board on Health Sciences Policy.

I have a Doctor of Public Health degree. And I run a pretty innovative research center at LeadingAge. But that’s not what sets me apart from my colleagues on the board.

What makes me special is that I’m the only board member who comes directly from the field of long-term services and supports.

That’s an important distinction for me. It will shape my role on the board by keeping me focused squarely on the needs of older consumers, particularly the most vulnerable members of this growing age cohort.

What is the Board on Health Sciences Policy?

The Institute of Medicine, the health arm of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, has been working for almost 45 years to provide the evidence that both government and the private sector need to make informed health decisions.

Seven boards are responsible for overseeing IOM projects and activities. My board provides guidance to the IOM’s program of biomedical and clinical research, which is designed to “ensure and improve the health and resilience of the public.”

Basically, our job is to make sure that the IOM’s biomedical and clinical research is competent and high-quality. We also advise the IOM about new initiatives that might be undertaken to advance its research work in these areas.

If the 300-page Briefing Book I received before the board’s first meeting is any indication, that work is quite extensive -- and very impressive.

In 2015 alone, the Board on Health Sciences Policy released findings from 20 studies on a wide range of topics, including: 

  • Cognitive aging.
  • The future of home health care.
  • Infectious disease emergencies.
  • Sharing clinical trial data.
  • Nurse credentialing. 
  • Age-related macular degeneration.
  • Cardiac arrest.
  • Depression.
  • Substance use disorders.

The board oversees 10 ongoing forums and roundtables, including the Forum on Aging, Disability, and Independence. We’re also keeping track of a number of current studies on such topics as Alzheimer’s disease, vision and hearing health, and the future of nursing.

Grounding Research in Reality

Over the next 2 years, I’ll be working hard to ensure that the discussions of the Board on Health Sciences Policy are grounded in what reality looks like for older adults and for the organizations that deliver services and supports to them.

I plan to bring to the board my own practical, translational approach to research. I think it will complement the scientific and clinical expertise that my colleagues bring to the board’s work.

I’d also like to focus the board’s attention on science policy issues that relate to older adults and to the long-term care sector. I plan to:

  • Advocate for the inclusion of more older adults in randomized controlled trials so that research findings are relevant to our aging population.
  • Raise the ethical issues that must be considered when people with cognitive impairments participate in research studies. 
  • Stress the importance of translating research findings into language that lay people can understand, and involving consumers in the design and dissemination of scientific studies.

Keeping LeadingAge Members Informed

On the flip side, I also plan to work hard over the next 2 years to keep you informed about those aspects of the board’s work that is relevant to the work you do.

For starters, I’d recommend you check out 2 resources that the Board on Health Sciences Policy released this year.

Cognitive Aging

Cognitive Aging: Progress in Understanding and Opportunities for Action contains the findings from an IOM study on the public health dimensions of cognitive aging.

The online resources associated with this project include a report that assesses the state of our knowledge about cognitive aging, and addresses such issues as prevention, intervention, and education. 

You’ll also find some very useful action guides for families, health care providers, and communities.

Home Health Care

Last fall, the IOM and the National Research Council convened a public workshop on The Future of Home Health Care that relates directly to the work that many of your organizations do.

The report from that workshop does a great job of outlining the important role that home health care can play in supporting aging in place and helping to deliver health care and other needed supports to the homes of high-risk, chronically ill Americans, and people with disabilities.

My workshop presentation helped to shine a spotlight on the important role that direct care workers play in delivering home health care. 

These workers are, after all, the foundation of our home health system. We won’t be able to meet current and future demands for home health care until we find strategies for recruiting, training, and retaining a quality direct care workforce. 

Knowledge is Power

These are only a few of the many resources that the IOM -- and the Board on Health Sciences Policy -- has to offer you. 

To find out more about the board’s resources, I urge you to visit the Board on Health Sciences Policy and review the complete list of its reports.

Remember -- knowledge is power. The more you’re able to understand and translate research into practice, the stronger your organizations will be, and the better able your residents and clients will be to enjoy health, independence, and quality of life.