Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest integrated health system, on Monday announced that it will invest $2 million to launch a new research initiative to study gun violence and identify best practices for providers to prevent firearm-related injuries and deaths.
Gun violence is a leading cause of premature death in the United States. CDC data show that more than 30,000 people in the United States died from firearm-related injuries in 2016. But compared to other leading causes of death, there has been relatively little research into gun violence and prevention efforts, Modern Healthcare reports.
Congress for more than two decades has included the so-called Dickey Amendment in spending bills, which essentially halted federal funded gun violence research. While Congress last month clarified that the amendment does not prevent CDC from researching gun violence, lawmakers did not provide any federal funding to support such research. And until now there's been little movement in the private sector to fill the research gap.
Details on the investment
The research initiative, called the Task Force on Firearm Injury Prevention, will be conducted across Kaiser's eight regional research centers.
Kaiser officials said the initial $2 million investment will be used to identify which studies would be most beneficial and which interventions its doctors and hospitals could potentially adopt to reduce firearm deaths and injuries.
David Grossman, a doctor and senior researcher who is co-leading the task force, said there isn't yet "evidence to know what's effective and what works" when it comes to preventing gun injuries.
Bechara Choucair, Kaiser's chief community health officer and co-leader of the task force, said that firearm injuries are an issue that directly affects the health system and its patients. According to Kaiser, its physicians treated over 11,000 gunshot wounds between 2016 and 2017. Choucair said, "We should be thinking about this problem and studying interventions for it in the same way we study heart disease or diabetes or any other leading cause of death."
Several experts praised Kaiser's move. David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, said, "In some fields like cancer research, $2 million may seem like small change. ... But in gun research, where there is almost no money at all, this is big."
According to Garen Wintemute, a gun violence researcher at University of California-Davis, said Kaiser's resources puts the health system in a unique position to support gun violence research. "Their detailed patient data allow them to conduct research that simply can’t be performed in other settings," he said. "One possibility: Kaiser would be an ideal setting for research on how best to integrate firearm violence prevention into patient care."
For its part, Kaiser is hoping the initiative will inspire other health systems to fund research on gun violence. "This is our first step in helping us as a system to see what we can contribute," Choucair said. "We're hoping this will be a catalyst for others to start being engaged in this space as well" (Wan, "To Your Health," Washington Post, 4/9; Ross Johnson, Modern Healthcare, 4/9).
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