Stronger public voice will improve impact and quality in health research

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According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), fewer than 60 percent of decisions on general medical services are supported by appropriate research evidence, and up to 25 percent of patients get care that is not needed or could be harmful. Can the public – as patients, taxpayers or citizens – help change these statistics?

Currently, funding decisions regarding the most pressing health concerns and determining best practices for treatment are made by a combination of researchers, review panels, health and non-profit agencies, industry and governments. However, there is compelling evidence to suggest that all British Columbians have an important role to play in improving the impact of health research.

Apart from improving research impact and quality, it is also argued that as citizens, we have a right to be involved in publicly funded research that could improve or affect our health or the services we receive. To address this, “patient-oriented research” units are being established across Canada as part of CIHR’s national Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR). According to CIHR, SPOR aims “to foster evidence-informed health care by bringing innovative diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to the point of care.”

As British Columbia’s health research agency, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research is facilitating the development of a provincial unit within SPOR that will identify the needs of patients and the health care system and fund research that addresses those needs.

The SPOR Support Unit’s approach to establishing patient involvement in health research in British Columbia includes:

  • Training in public involvement – not only for the public, but for researchers and research-related agencies.
  • Helping these agencies to change practice and policy so that involving the public in health research, where appropriate, becomes the standard.
  • Developing evidence on public involvement itself, to learn what works best and how to improve.

SPOR is intended to improve health outcomes and enhance patients’ health care experience by integrating research evidence at all levels in the health system. This presents an important opportunity to make health research more responsive to health care system priorities focused on improved patient outcomes.

Statistics show Canadians believe in health research. Involving the public in health research in BC – improving its quality and ensuring the results are effectively used to support good health and a strong health system – will bring us closer to fulfilling that promise.

 

Bev Holmes is vice-president, research & impact for the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research and has been actively involved in developing British Columbia's SPOR Support Unit.