Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Australian health policy makers’ priorities for research synthesis: a survey

Miranda S. Cumpston A D , Emma J. Tavender B , Heather A. Buchan C and Russell L. Gruen B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Australasian Cochrane Centre, School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Level 6, The Alfred Centre, 99 Commercial Rd, Melbourne, VIC 3004, Australia.

B Australian Satellite of the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care Group, National Trauma Research Institute, Alfred Hospital and Monash University, Level 4, 89 Commercial Road, Melbourne, VIC 3004, Australia. Email: emma.tavender@monash.edu, r.gruen@alfred.org.au

C Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care, Level 7, 1 Oxford Street, Darlinghurst, NSW 2010, Australia. Email: heather.buchan@safetyandquality.gov.au

D Corresponding author. Email: miranda.cumpston@monash.edu

Australian Health Review 36(4) 401-411 https://doi.org/10.1071/AH11064
Submitted: 3 August 2011  Accepted: 1 March 2012   Published: 27 August 2012

Abstract

Objectives. Health policy making is complex, but can be informed by evidence of what works, including systematic reviews. We aimed to inform the work of the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care (EPOC) Group by identifying systematic review topics relevant to Australian health policy makers and exploring whether existing Cochrane reviews address these topics.

Methods. We interviewed 30 senior policy makers from State and Territory Government Departments of Health to identify topics considered important for systematic reviews within the scope of health services research, including professional, financial, organisational and regulatory interventions to improve professional practice and the organisation of services. We then looked for existing Cochrane reviews relevant to these topics.

Results. Eighty-five priority topics were identified by policy makers, including advanced practice roles, care for Indigenous Australians, care for chronic disease, coordinating across jurisdictions, admission avoidance, and eHealth. Sixty published Cochrane reviews address these issues, and 34 additional reviews are in progress. Thirty-four topics are yet to be addressed.

Conclusions. This survey has identified questions for which Australian policy makers have indicated a need for systematic reviews. Further, it has confirmed that existing reviews do address issues of importance to policy makers, with the potential to inform policy processes.

What is known about the topic? Evidence-informed policy making is a complex process, requiring integration of relevant evidence in the context of multiple influences, inputs and priorities. Communication between policy makers and researchers is likely to increase the availability of relevant research evidence for policy, and improve its uptake into action. The Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care Group produces systematic reviews in areas intersecting with key policy responsibilities, including professional, financial, organisational and regulatory interventions designed to improve health professional practice and the organisation of healthcare services, and seeks to engage with policy makers to identify their research priorities.

What does this paper add? This study surveyed Australian health policy makers from each of the Australian State and Territory Government Departments of Health, and identified 85 policy questions for which they considered systematic reviews of the evidence would be useful. Relevant to these topics, 60 existing published Cochrane systematic reviews were identified, as well as 34 reviews in progress, and 34 topics not yet addressed. The study also identified those published reviews that could not reach definitive conclusions, indicating that more primary research is required.

What are the implications for practitioners? For researchers, areas of need for new systematic reviews have been identified. For policy makers, a suite of relevant systematic reviews have been identified that may be of use in policy processes.


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