Scaling Interventions to Manage Chronic Disease: Innovative Methods at the Intersection of Health Policy Research and Implementation Science


Policy implementation is a key component of scaling effective chronic disease prevention and management interventions. Policy can support scale-up by mandating or incentivizing intervention adoption, but enacting a policy is only the first step. Fully implementing a policy designed to facilitate implementation of health interventions often requires a range of accompanying implementation structures, like health IT systems, and implementation strategies, like training. Decision makers need to know what policies can support intervention adoption and how to implement those policies, but to date research on policy implementation is limited and innovative methodological approaches are needed. In December 2021, the Johns Hopkins ALACRITY Center for Health and Longevity in Mental Illness and the Johns Hopkins Center for Mental Health and Addiction Policy convened a forum of research experts to discuss approaches for studying policy implementation. In this report, we summarize the ideas that came out of the forum. First, we describe a motivating example focused on an Affordable Care Act Medicaid health home waiver policy used by some US states to support scale-up of an evidence-based integrated care model shown in clinical trials to improve cardiovascular care for people with serious mental illness. Second, we define key policy implementation components including structures, strategies, and outcomes. Third, we provide an overview of descriptive, predictive and associational, and causal approaches that can be used to study policy implementation. We conclude with discussion of priorities for methodological innovations in policy implementation research, with three key areas identified by forum experts: effect modification methods for making causal inferences about how policies’ effects on outcomes vary based on implementation structures/strategies; causal mediation approaches for studying policy implementation mechanisms; and characterizing uncertainty in systems science models. We conclude with discussion of overarching methods considerations for studying policy implementation, including measurement of policy implementation, strategies for studying the role of context in policy implementation, and the importance of considering when establishing causality is the goal of policy implementation research.

Prevention Science