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Avoidable Waste in research

Carl Heneghan
Last edited 6th July 2011

It’s always a pleasure to listen to Sir Ian Chalmers but the topic of choice at SAPCprimary care conference is to irresistible to not blog about.

Most of you reading this blog will be involved in doing or reporting research: it seems you may be wasting a lot of resources. If you aren't involved in research then you may want to know, why does so much effort go to waste?

If you don’t know who Iain Chalmers is? He did this small thing, setting up the Cochrane ollabaration, and now directs the James Lind Library.

In 2009, Iain and Paul Glasziou published a piece you should consider reading in the Lancet which highlighted the problems: “85% of research investment is wasted worldwide.”

If you are an epidemiologist then the four questions you would want to ask are published some time ago by Austin Bradford Hill
1. Why did you start?
2. What did you do?
3. What answer did you get?
4. What does it mean?

If you can’t answer these questions about the research you are doing then it seems you should go back to the drawing board.

Part of the solution is to create better questions, relevant to patients, and developed by patients. You may be surprised that a resource to make uncertainties explicit and to help prioritise new research is actually available. It is called DUETs. It has been established to ‘ publish uncertainties about the effects of treatment which cannot currently be answered by referring to reliable up-to-date systematic reviews of existing research evidence’.

I am continually frustrated with the amount of guff published in the media about the latest ‘dramatic health cure’, Yet an imitative like DUETS never gets a jot of news space. However, this initiative is unlikely to away, and at some time in the future it is likely it will pervade all aspects of research.

The key take home messages are: there is substantial avoidable waste, research should address known uncertainties and engagement of patients and the public is essential.

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