Health research more important than ever

Dr. Joy Johnson, Simon Fraser University's incoming Vice-President, Research. (photo by Carol Thorbes, SFU)

A version of this article originally appeared on the Simon Fraser University website. It is reprinted here by kind permission.

Now, more than ever, we need health research to help us address a number pressing health issues, both here in Canada and around the world.

Diabetes rates, for instance, continue to be on the rise and we need to find interventions that can help individuals, families, and communities manage this illness. Alzheimer's disease is another condition that is affecting an increasing number of individuals and families and presents significant challenges to our health-care system. New discoveries about the mechanisms of disease, potential treatment options, and ways the health system can respond more effectively to those affected are critical.

And once these discoveries are made, we, as health researchers, need to do a better job of sharing the outcomes of our work to help the public grasp the importance and impact of health research.  

We need to use multiple channels of communication to get our message across. These channels include social media, traditional media sources, websites, blogs, and newsletters. We also need to help equip researchers so that they feel fully prepared to talk about their findings and engage with the media about their research.

SFU Health Research Day, held April 10, allowed us to shine a light on some of the excellent work taking place in British Columbia to address our health challenges. Health research in BC is cutting edge and is increasingly being recognized nationally and internationally. It is my strong sense that this research is making a difference to individuals, families, and communities and that this work needs to be celebrated.

In addition to events like SFU Health Research Day, we need to reach to the media – it can play a key role in telling the story of health research. I've heard some people complain that the media tends to focus on new commercial products and new discoveries in the basic sciences. There is a tendency to focus on these types of stories because they are compelling.

The challenge for us is to learn how to talk about the contributions of all of our health research and help the media, and by extension, the public understand its importance. In other words, I don't think that there's a problem with the media focusing on the wrong issues; rather, we need to learn how to be more compelling in the way that we share research findings.

Dr. Joy Johnson is incoming Vice-President, Research at Simon Fraser University. She is a professor of nursing at the University of British Columbia and scientific director of the Institute of Gender and Health at the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.