Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Australian Health Policy Makers' Priorities for Research Synthesis: A Survey

Academic journal article Australian Health Review

Australian Health Policy Makers' Priorities for Research Synthesis: A Survey

Article excerpt

Introduction

In the context of health services research, decisions about implementation are primarily made at the level of institutions and governments. For researchers in this field, therefore, health policy makers are a critical partner in both setting the agenda and in the uptake and implementation of the findings of their research.1

This intersection of interests between researchers and policy makers is not without complexity. Although there is public consensus that policy decisions should in some way be informed by relevant evidence,2-6 health policy making occurs in the context of multiple political, economic, and social factors, and with the participation of multiple players and interests in both setting the agenda and determining policy actions.6-11 Research evidence is, quite appropriately, only one of the inputs into this process, although the role played by research evidence in specific policy decisions may be debated, and the nature of evidence that is appropriate to a given policy process will vary.3,12,13 Researchers alone lack the contextual knowledge to determine what research evidence is most likely to be useful to policy makers.1

Where policy makers seek evidence to inform their decisions, relevant research must be available.3 Knowledge translation research indicates that failure to answer relevant questions is perceived by policy makers as an important barrier to the use of research evidence. Communication and collaboration between researchers and policy makers can address this problem.6,13-16By engaging with policy makers, researchers can reduce wasted time and resources, and facilitate policy that is truly evidenceinformed.

The Cochrane Collaboration17 is an international, independent, not-for-profit organisation devoted to production of high quality18 systematic reviews of health interventions and diagnostic tests. The Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) Group focuses particularly on systematic reviews of professional, financial, organisational and regulatory interventions designed to improve health professional practice and the organisation of healthcare services.19 An Australian satellite of the Cochrane EPOC Group was established in 2005 to support authors ofEPOCreviews and to increase the number of published Cochrane systematic reviews of relevance to the Australian context.

Systematic reviews have the potential to be a highly useful form of evidence for policy makers, because they present reliable summaries of the body of accumulated research, reducing the effort required to locate relevant sources and the biases associated with relying on individual studies.15,20 In the field of health services research, the Cochrane EPOC Group intends its reviews to provide evidence that is highly relevant to policy decisions, and aims to engage directly with policy makers to discuss research priorities.

The objective of this study was to guide the work of the Cochrane EPOC Group by consulting with Australian health policy makers. We aimed to identify policy makers' priority topics for which systematic reviews of the available evidence would be useful; to explore the extent to which existing Cochrane systematic reviews are relevant to these policy priorities; and to identify gaps where new systematic reviews are needed.

Methods

The majority of Cochrane systematic reviews are conducted by volunteer researchers guided by their own research interests. As such, few Cochrane Review Groups have conducted formal priority-setting processes,21,22 although there is an increasing discussion of these activities within the Cochrane Collaboration. For this study, we followed Lomas' principles for setting userinformed priorities in health services research.1

This study involved interviews with a broad range of Australian health policy makers, and an analysis of systematic reviews available in The Cochrane Library. Interviews were selected over alternative methods such as a face-to-face Delphi process, as they increased the chances of obtaining time for indepth discussion with busy senior policy makers in a range of locations. …

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