Research blog

Considerations for the future of the health services research field

As I near the end of my PhD, a lot of my thinking has inevitably shifted to my future career direction and where and how I want to use the skills and knowledge in applied health services research I gained through my PhD and my prior experience in health management.

I recently attended the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting in Seattle and went to a session on the Learning Health System, which sharpened my understanding of some of the issues I had been reflecting on about my career. The ‘Learning Health System’ is a broad term with one definition being,

“science, informatics, incentives, and culture are aligned for continuous improvement and innovation, with best practices seamlessly embedded in the delivery process and new knowledge captured as an integral by-product of the delivery experience.”

Another blog post based on this session discusses the ‘learning health system’ concept in more detail but I was focussed on what this concept meant for the the health services research sector and my own future career path. Three key takeaways I took from this session:

  1. There needs to be meaningful partnerships between researchers and health delivery system organisations. Speakers noted that central to the success of a learning health system is breaking down the barriers that exist between the ‘ivory tower’ of academia and the rushed and unpredictable environment of healthcare organisations.
  2. Emerging research skills and capabilities required to work in a learning health system may differ from many of the traditional courses taught in current research degrees. Health services implementation research often requires mixed qualitative and quantitative research methods, whereas many PhD students focus primarily on one type of method. Additionally, for quantitative research, traditional statistical techniques need to be supplemented with methods more suited to working with administrative data not collected for the purpose of research, such as electronic health records and insurance claims data. These predictive modelling methods and data processing skills are more likely to be taught in computer science rather than health services research programs.
  3. The origin of research projects is changing with the balance in health services research shifting from investigator-initiated research funded by grants to research sponsored or commissioned by healthcare organisations.

While the session left me optimistic about opportunities to work in a research role alongside health organisations, not necessarily in an academic setting, there were still questions about the models of funding and career development that can support both researchers and clinicians to participate in learning health systems.

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