Conducting research is a complex and multi-step process. This guide will provide an overview of how to conduct healthcare research, including the steps involved and key considerations for each stage.
1: Define the Objectives of Your Research Study
The objectives of the research study should include both short-term and long-term goals. It is essential to have a solid plan with well-defined objectives and the right methods to ask the right questions to the right people.
Research should also consider ethical issues and the steps needed to minimize harm to those who take part. Furthermore, potential benefits to users must be considered, and it’s important to include time frames, milestones, and communication strategies.
Analyze and interpret data collected from surveys or interviews to identify trends related to the impact on desired outcomes, such as changes in attitudes or behaviors over time and changes in policies or practices.
2: Identify Relevant Studies and Sources
Searching the literature helps ensure that the research will address an appropriate gap in the evidence and help refine the research question and choice of methods. Critiquing the methodology of other people’s work is key to building up a better understanding and justification for a research approach.
The search strategy can be developed and enriched using relevant terms and literature from MeSH, Medline Plus, Ovid MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, HMIC, and Oxford Academic’s Research Evaluation databases.
Screen all retrieved citations for eligibility based on your inclusion criteria and discard any that do not meet them (e.g., non-English language articles). Review the remaining articles for quality using appropriate assessment tools (e.g., QUADAS).
Lastly, apply systematic review methodology (e.g., PRISMA) to ensure transparency in reporting findings from each study reviewed in your review article or paper report.
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3: Consider Ethical Approval and Consent Requirements
Research teams should follow ethical guidelines and seek approval from a research ethics committee for their plan. The research should not involve any unnecessary harm or risk to the participants, and all possible measures should be taken to ensure their welfare and safety during the study period.
In addition, studies involving new medicines should have gone through a process to ensure they are ready for use with people before being tested on humans or animals in clinical trials or laboratory experiments, respectively.
Consent should also be obtained from all participants before they take part in the study, outlining what they can expect from it as well as any potential risks involved in taking part in it (if any).
4: Create a Study Plan and Timeline
After identifying the topic and research question, you would like to explore and review the eligibility criteria for each registry or study, as well as any additional requirements, such as consent forms or surveys, to determine which ones are suitable for your project goals and needs.
Select one or more registries or studies that fit your needs best, then register with them if necessary by following their instructions on how to participate in their study.
Don’t forget to create a timeline for how long you will be involved in each study so you can keep track of progress toward completion of the project goals.
5: Construct a Questionnaire or Survey
Identify the purpose of the research and the target population and determine what information you are trying to gather, as well as who will be most affected by your research.
Create a survey or questionnaire that includes questions that are relevant to your purpose and can be answered by respondents in a way that is meaningful to them. Make sure it is clear, concise, and easy to understand for all ages and levels of education and language abilities.
Pilot-test your survey with a small group of people from your target population before rolling it out across the board for full use in research activities (e.g., interviews).
Finally, analyze responses using descriptive statistics (e.g., mean scores) or inferential statistics (for example, t-tests) as needed depending on what questions are being asked of participants in order to understand their experiences better or make comparisons between groups if applicable.
👉 Related: Biostatistics in HEOR
6: Write Your Research Proposal
The process of writing a research proposal can be broken down into six manageable steps.
- Introduce an educated idea arising from a clinical practice issue. The research topic should be rooted in a problem that affects medical practice; it should also provide motivation for completing the research and relevance for affecting medical practice changes and improvements.
- Conduct a systematic literature review before starting to write. This will help to inform the research idea and provide evidence to support the project from the beginning.
- Develop a conceptual framework. This will help to clarify the research question and ensure the proposed project is feasible and efficient.
- Seek advice from clinical experts, experienced researchers, relevant stakeholders, and even patients. This will enhance the research question’s relevance, feasibility, and efficiency in your document.
- Structure the research proposal. It should include background, objectives, methodology, outcomes, and dissemination. Additionally, include a section on ethical issues, service user involvement, and project management.
- Proofread the proposal carefully before submitting it to a funding body or ethical review panel. Consider having the proposal read by a consumer of health, colleague, or friend to ensure clarity and that jargon would be understood by a wider audience.
7: Collect Data Manually or Electronically
Determine the end goal of your research project and decide whether qualitative or quantitative data collection methods would be most beneficial for achieving your goal.
Select appropriate data collection methods, such as interviews, focus groups, observation for qualitative research, multiple choice surveys, or structured data analysis for quantitative research.
Analyze the collected data using specific tools and methods relevant to each data collection method (e.g., qualitative analysis software). This step should be done thoroughly to draw valid conclusions from the findings.
8: Elaborate on Conclusions and Report Results
First, identify the purpose of the research study and determine which outcomes are most relevant. Next, plan how to communicate results to study participants, including what information to provide, when it should be provided, and how it should be presented.
When possible, involve patients or other individuals who have participated in the study in developing feedback mechanisms that are meaningful to them.
At a minimum, provide participants with a summary of findings from their records that are clinically relevant (as determined by researchers) as well as an explanation of these findings in an understandable format.
In addition, you can consider providing additional information, such as data tables or graphs showing trends over time if applicable; this may help individuals better understand their healthcare situation more clearly. You can also provide opportunities for further discussion if needed.
9. Disseminate Your Findings
Depending on the size and scope of your research, disseminating your research could include media releases and interviews, conference presentations and posters, white papers, policy briefs, infographics, or other formats.
Follow best practices when communicating your findings. Consider the National Institutes of Health Guide, A Checklist for Communicating Science and Health Research to the Public, for tips on making research results accessible to a broad audience.
Additionally, the Rural Health Research Gateway’s Dissemination Toolkit provides examples of fact sheets, policy briefs, and other dissemination formats, as well as general guidelines for sharing rural health research findings.
By taking the previous steps, you can ensure that your research is accurate and comprehensive and can be communicated thoroughly to all stakeholders. This will give you the confidence to present your findings in a meaningful way and disseminate them to the appropriate audiences.