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Health Connection Fast Facts - What is Research?

Research is the study of information that increases our understanding of a topic or health issue. Health research provides important information about trends in injury, illness, and disease.

Health research drives innovation and improvements in patient care, which leads to better health outcomes. We are grateful to the many people who have volunteered to participate in research studies that assess new therapies and innovative diagnostic methods, as well as research surveying quality of life, healthcare behaviors and public health needs.

Woman examining laboratory samples.

Types of Health Research

There are several types of research:

  1. Basic research science, takes place in a science laboratory and does not involve people. This type of research may explore cells, tissue, or animals. 
  2. Translational research or “bench-to-bedside” research, is when findings from basic research have the potential to benefit human beings. Basic science research lays the foundation of a researcher’s understanding of their ‘patient’.
  3. Clinical research, also known as interventional research, involves people. This type of research examines how medical intervention can affect patients. For example, does a new treatment, medical device or routine minimize symptoms, extend life or potentially rid someone of an injury or illness entirely? Examples of clinical research that HSS conducts include, but are not limited to:
    • Clinical Trials
    • Outcomes Research

Clinical trials are classified as Phase I, Phase II, and Phase III. Among Phase II and III studies, the gold standard is the “randomized prospective clinical trial”. This type of study compares two or more groups of patients who are randomly assigned to get different treatments or follow different health routines. Researchers can track each group over time to observe whether health outcomes improved or worsened.

Outcomes Research, measures the impact of an intervention or program. Types of outcomes include worsening of symptoms, improvement or cure of symptoms, and mortality. With this type of research, participants report their symptoms and/or general quality of life before and after their treatment. This data may be gathered through multiple channels, including surveys, interviews, focus groups, and more. This helps to evaluate the long-term success of a treatment or intervention, such as a patient’s mobility months after receiving a joint replacement or the effects of physical activity on pain and stiffness.

HSS and other hospitals have coordinated efforts to gather outcomes data from patients. This data is entered into registries so that doctors can predict how well someone might do with a certain treatment. For example, as an HSS patient, you may be asked to complete a Patient-Reported Outcome Measures, or PROMs questionnaire, a standardized and validated survey. A standardized survey is developed with the intent of asking all survey participants the same questions, in an identical way so responses are recorded uniformly, while a validated survey is one that has been tested to ensure it produces reliable and accurate results. PROMs questionnaires help your healthcare team understand how you feel about your health goals, the care you receive, your well-being and your progress. In short, they are used to study how you feel about your health status in areas such as:

  • pain
  • mobility
  • ability to perform daily tasks or specific activities

To learn more about PROMs, watch this video or visit hss.edu/proms.

Community-based Participatory Research (CBPR) is an invaluable component of research at HSS and is another example of how outcomes data can be used. CBPR is conducted to identify the healthcare needs of large groups of people and is centered around program participants and/or patients. For example, part of the HSS Education Institute’s CBPR framework involves using both quantitative and qualitative tools such as program surveys and focus groups, respectively. After attending a program or class, participants are asked to answer questions about how they heard about our programs, and what they thought of the one they attended.

Learning from participants is critical to provide programming that meets patients/participants needs. One essential aspect of CBPR is informing the community about the research in which they participated. This can be done is several ways: community forums, infographics, and video messages.

To learn more about the HSS Education Institute’s work and outcomes from CBPR, watch this video highlighting The Impact of HSS Virtual Programs.

How is Data Collected?

As referenced above, there are two primary methods to collect data: qualitative and quantitative.

  • Qualitative research involves collecting non-numerical data through interviews, questionnaires, focus groups, surveys, recordings from group settings, documents, etc. This type of information can help identify the thoughts and opinions of a study population and ultimately contribute to finding new areas of research and developing new theories about a study population.
  • Quantitative research involves collecting and analyzing numerical data to find patterns and averages with the goal of projecting results and outcomes that can be expected in a larger population.

Qualitative and quantitative data collection methods can answer different types of research questions. The data obtained through each method complement each other.

There are a variety of research tools that can be used to conduct both quantitative and qualitative research. Questionnaires, interviews, surveys, focus groups, scales, experiments, and reports are all sources for researchers to gain information about their study question or study population. Several factors, such as the study type, approach, and purpose, play a role in determining which tools are best to use for the research topic in question.

In summary, conclusions that stem from research studies can help change the standard of care for illness, disorders, and injuries, and inform new approaches to care that otherwise would not have been considered.

For more information, please contact us at communityed@hss.edu.

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