Monday, June 11, 2012

"what does the research tell us about...?"

Three times in the last week, I received calls or emails that contained a question that began, “What does the research tell us about…?” Each question related to a current issue in workers’ compensation and prevention. One wanted to know which prevention strategies have the best evidence as being effective. Another was interested in the degree to which financial “secondary gain” might be a factor in claim duration. Another asked about the elevated risk victims of a certain common occupation disease claims might have for other serious illnesses (with the implication of compensability).

These are all good questions. Each has real-world implications for policy, case management and prevention. In some cases, there are solid answers from the published literature; in others, the question is unanswered or there is too little information to provide a clear answer at this time.

Behind each question lie important assumptions:
1. Valid, peer reviewed research matters to policy makers and practitioners

2. Scientific hypothesis testing and data analysis in properly designed and ethically applied research provides better information for decision making than conjecture

3. Research that has been subject to scrutiny and review by other researchers is defensible as a basis for decision making

4. The synthesize of the many pieces of research necessary to arrive at valid answers to such questions has taken place.

There is often a fifth assumption: research is “costless”. It is “free” in that most research policy makers need will eventually be published in peer-reviewed journals. However, I get the impression that anyone asking a policy analyst the questions above assumes the information is “out there” and will only take a little scratching about to summarize in a briefing note.

I know that most policy makers and practitioners would never say research is costless if they gave it any thought, but I am certain not one of the people asking me these important questions could put a dollar figure on a given piece of research. Even if they could, (I know I couldn’t), I doubt they would take into account the costs beyond the dollars involved. Every scientist, Master’s student and Ph.D. candidate who applies their intellectual resources to research questions in workers’ compensation, prevention and rehabilitation is foregoing other research topics—an opportunity cost that can have huge implications.

I had the pleasure of welcoming nearly 200 researchers, students and policy makers to the Canadian Association for Research on Work and Health (CARWH) to their conference in Vancouver a few days ago. WorkSafeBC has funded research and researchers for more than 40 years and was proud to be the host organization for this event. WSIB Ontario, WCB Nova Scotia, and IWH Ontario also directly supported this event. Many other organizations were represented through the research presented that was the product of their financial support (the IRSST in Quebec and WCB Manitoba among them). Far from being “free riders”, these organizations understand that research is not costless and have made a commitment to paying a share of that cost. It is not the “price of admission” but it is an admission that there is a price worth paying for answers that will make a difference in workers’ compensation and prevention.

Along with guests from the US, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, I had the opportunity to meet with researchers, ask questions and discuss areas for further research. The abstracts for this event are still available online. Just skimming through the titles speaks volumes about the new answers to important questions researchers are now investigating.

So, what does the research tell us about these important questions? A lot more than a blog post can do justice. Next time you find your self asking (or being asked) a question that begins this way, ask what you and your organization are doing to support research, researchers and the sharing of data that will make a difference.

1 comment:

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