As National Science Week turns the nation’s focus to the vital role that science must play in our future, the media coverage is dominated by images of white lab coats and microscopes. But we thought it timely to hail another area of science having a real-world impact on health policies, programs and systems and, ultimately, on the health and wellbeing of Australian people: Implementation Science.
Defining implementation science
A commonly used definition of Implementation Science is that it is the scientific study of methods to promote the systematic uptake of research findings, such as proven clinical treatments, practices, organisational, and management interventions, into routine practice.
Implementation Science looks at “what works, for whom and under what circumstances, and how interventions can be adapted and scaled up in ways that are accessible and equitable,” according to the Global Alliance for Chronic Disease.
Implementation Science researchers are addressing the knowledge gap between interventions that research has shown to be effective, and their delivery to communities and translation into real-world practice, with the ultimate aim of improving health.
Five reasons why it’s important
Researchers and thought leaders from the Sax Institute have put forward the following five reasons for why Implementation Science deserves to be in the spotlight:
- It’s helping us understand what makes programs effective, or ineffective: There is ample recognition that programs with established efficacy often fail to deliver full benefit because they are not implemented as intended or at a scale large enough to achieve significant and sustained impact. Implementation Science plays a critical role in understanding the essential elements of effective programs and adapting these to meet local contexts.
- It’s about what happens in the real world: Unlike many scientific studies, Implementation Science focuses on real-world conditions and the use of methods for understanding and responding to local complexity (such as process evaluation, developmental evaluation and systems thinking).
- It helps ensure health dollars are spent effectively: Researchers have outlined a clear business case for Implementation Science, as it ensures health dollars are being spent on evidence-based programs that have been shown to be effective in improving population health on the ground.
- It’s speeding up the path from research to real-world action: It is generally accepted the it takes 15-20 years for health research to make from the funding stage into real-world programs, but Implementation Science is narrowing the gap between discovery of new knowledge and its application in health care settings.
- It’s strengthening health systems globally: As championed by the Alliance for Health Policy and Systems Research, Implementation Science is proving particularly valuable in low and middle-income countries, where it can inform health policy decisions, scale-up proven health interventions, and ultimately save lives.
Read some of the recent Implementation Science research papers by Sax Institute researchers and colleagues:
- Rapid reviews in health policy: a study of intended use in the New South Wales’ Evidence Check programme
- Challenges of integrating evidence into health policy and planning: linking multiple disciplinary approaches
- Figuring out fidelity: a worked example of the methods used to identify, critique and revise the essential elements of a contextualised intervention in health policy agencies
- Towards the implementation of large scale innovations in complex health care systems: views of managers and frontline personnel
- The effectiveness of clinical networks in improving quality of care and patient outcomes: A systematic review of quantitative and qualitative studies.
- The development of ORACLe: a measure of an organisation’s capacity to engage in evidence-informed health policy.