A framework for value-creating learning health systems

Health Res Policy Syst. 2019 Aug 9;17(1):79. doi: 10.1186/s12961-019-0477-3.


Background: Interest in value-based healthcare, generally defined as providing better care at lower cost, has grown worldwide, and learning health systems (LHSs) have been proposed as a key strategy for improving value in healthcare. LHSs are emerging around the world and aim to leverage advancements in science, technology and practice to improve health system performance at lower cost. However, there remains much uncertainty around the implementation of LHSs and the distinctive features of these systems. This paper presents a conceptual framework that has been developed in Canada to support the implementation of value-creating LHSs.

Methods: The framework was developed by an interdisciplinary team at the Institut national d'excellence en santé et en services sociaux (INESSS). It was informed by a scoping review of the scientific and grey literature on LHSs, regular team discussions over a 14-month period, and consultations with Canadian and international experts.

Results: The framework describes four elements that characterise LHSs, namely (1) core values, (2) pillars and accelerators, (3) processes and (4) outcomes. LHSs embody certain core values, including an emphasis on participatory leadership, inclusiveness, scientific rigour and person-centredness. In addition, values such as equity and solidarity should also guide LHSs and are particularly relevant in countries like Canada. LHS pillars are the infrastructure and resources supporting the LHS, whereas accelerators are those specific structures that enable more rapid learning and improvement. For LHSs to create value, such infrastructures must not only exist within the ecosystem but also be connected and aligned with the LHSs' strategic goals. These pillars support the execution, routinisation and acceleration of learning cycles, which are the fundamental processes of LHSs. The main outcome sought by executing learning cycles is the creation of value, which we define as the striking of a more optimal balance of impacts on patient and provider experience, population health and health system costs.

Conclusions: Our framework illustrates how the distinctive structures, processes and outcomes of LHSs tie together with the aim of optimising health system performance and delivering greater value in health systems.

Keywords: Canada; Framework; Health system performance; Learning health systems; Quality improvement; Value-based care.

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Evidence-Based Practice / organization & administration
  • Health Expenditures
  • Humans
  • Information Systems / organization & administration
  • Leadership
  • Learning Health System / organization & administration*
  • Organizational Objectives
  • Outcome and Process Assessment, Health Care / organization & administration
  • Patient Satisfaction
  • Policy