Building the learning health system: Describing an organizational infrastructure to support continuous learning. Academic Article uri icon


  • Academic health centers are reorganizing in response to dramatic changes in the health-care environment. To improve value, they and other health systems must become a learning health system, specifically one that has the capacity to understand performance across the continuum of care and use that information to achieve continuous improvements in efficiency and effectiveness. While learning health system concepts have been well described, the practical steps to create such a system are not well defined. Establishing the necessary infrastructure is particularly challenging at academic health centers due to their tripartite missions and complex organizational structures.Using an evidence-based framework, this article describes a series of organizational-level interventions implemented at an academic health center to create the structures and processes to support the functions of a learning health system.Following implementation of changes from 2008 to 2013, system-level performance improved in multiple domains: patient satisfaction, population health screenings, improvement education, and patient engagement.This experience can be applied to health systems that wrestle with making system-level change when existing cultures, structures, and processes vary. Using an evidence -based framework is useful when developing the structures and processes that support the functions of a learning health system.

publication date

  • October 2017