Tracking the outputs of health intervention research

This series showcases the contributions of Sax Institute researchers to papers published in peer-reviewed literature.

What was studied?

A team including Sax Institute researchers examined 83 intervention studies funded by the NHMRC between 2003 and 2007. They looked at how many studies were published from that research, and whether the studies in which the interventions were found to have significant effects on health outcomes were more likely to get published.

What are the key findings?

Among the 66 studies that had been finalised, most had tested the efficacy (28) or effectiveness (27) of different interventions. Many of the studies focused on chronic disease and interventions included treatment and management, screening and early intervention and primary prevention.

The average number of articles that were published per NHMRC grant was 3.3.  Of those, two articles per grant reported on results, and the remainder were about descriptive, exploratory or methodological aspects of the research.

In half the studies, the interventions were found to have a significant impact on primary outcomes, while the other half didn’t.

Studies in which the intervention had significant effects on health outcomes were no more or less likely to get published than those that didn’t.

What was the conclusion?

Studies of health interventions in which the findings have significant impacts can have direct applicability and implications for health policy and practice, so research productivity – as judged by the research being published – is especially important.

The finding that about three articles were published as a result of each NHMRC-funded study would provide a benchmark against which to measure the publication outputs of future research.

While intervention research typically tests effectiveness, the study found significant intervention effects were not themselves an indicator of the study value or the publication output.

What are the implications?

This was the first independent study to look at the publication outputs of a set of intervention studies funded by a major national funding body – the NHMRC.

The authors said it was important to keep track of the outputs of medical research in this way in order to monitor whether research investment matched the need for evidence about healthcare interventions, the model of tracking research funding used in the study could potentially form the basis for improving systems of research funding.

The paper

King LS, Newson RS, Cohen GE, Schroeder J, Redman S, Rychetnik L, Milat AJ, Bauman A, Chapman S. Tracking funded health intervention research, Med J Aust 2015;203(4):184.