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      What makes an academic paper useful for health policy?

      editorial

      BMC Medicine

      BioMed Central

      Anthropology, Economics, Policy, Politics, Social science, Synthesis, Systematic reviews, Trials

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          There is no author summary for this article yet. Authors can add summaries to their articles on ScienceOpen to make them more accessible to a non-specialist audience.

          Abstract

          Evidence-based policy ensures that the best interventions are effectively implemented. Integrating rigorous, relevant science into policy is therefore essential. Barriers include the evidence not being there; lack of demand by policymakers; academics not producing rigorous, relevant papers within the timeframe of the policy cycle. This piece addresses the last problem. Academics underestimate the speed of the policy process, and publish excellent papers after a policy decision rather than good ones before it. To be useful in policy, papers must be at least as rigorous about reporting their methods as for other academic uses. Papers which are as simple as possible (but no simpler) are most likely to be taken up in policy. Most policy questions have many scientific questions, from different disciplines, within them. The accurate synthesis of existing information is the most important single offering by academics to the policy process. Since policymakers are making economic decisions, economic analysis is central, as are the qualitative social sciences. Models should, wherever possible, allow policymakers to vary assumptions. Objective, rigorous, original studies from multiple disciplines relevant to a policy question need to be synthesized before being incorporated into policy.

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          Methods for the synthesis of qualitative research: a critical review

          Background In recent years, a growing number of methods for synthesising qualitative research have emerged, particularly in relation to health-related research. There is a need for both researchers and commissioners to be able to distinguish between these methods and to select which method is the most appropriate to their situation. Discussion A number of methodological and conceptual links between these methods were identified and explored, while contrasting epistemological positions explained differences in approaches to issues such as quality assessment and extent of iteration. Methods broadly fall into 'realist' or 'idealist' epistemologies, which partly accounts for these differences. Summary Methods for qualitative synthesis vary across a range of dimensions. Commissioners of qualitative syntheses might wish to consider the kind of product they want and select their method – or type of method – accordingly.
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            Ebola virus disease in West Africa--the first 9 months of the epidemic and forward projections.

            On March 23, 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) was notified of an outbreak of Ebola virus disease (EVD) in Guinea. On August 8, the WHO declared the epidemic to be a "public health emergency of international concern." By September 14, 2014, a total of 4507 probable and confirmed cases, including 2296 deaths from EVD (Zaire species) had been reported from five countries in West Africa--Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. We analyzed a detailed subset of data on 3343 confirmed and 667 probable Ebola cases collected in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone as of September 14. The majority of patients are 15 to 44 years of age (49.9% male), and we estimate that the case fatality rate is 70.8% (95% confidence interval [CI], 69 to 73) among persons with known clinical outcome of infection. The course of infection, including signs and symptoms, incubation period (11.4 days), and serial interval (15.3 days), is similar to that reported in previous outbreaks of EVD. On the basis of the initial periods of exponential growth, the estimated basic reproduction numbers (R0 ) are 1.71 (95% CI, 1.44 to 2.01) for Guinea, 1.83 (95% CI, 1.72 to 1.94) for Liberia, and 2.02 (95% CI, 1.79 to 2.26) for Sierra Leone. The estimated current reproduction numbers (R) are 1.81 (95% CI, 1.60 to 2.03) for Guinea, 1.51 (95% CI, 1.41 to 1.60) for Liberia, and 1.38 (95% CI, 1.27 to 1.51) for Sierra Leone; the corresponding doubling times are 15.7 days (95% CI, 12.9 to 20.3) for Guinea, 23.6 days (95% CI, 20.2 to 28.2) for Liberia, and 30.2 days (95% CI, 23.6 to 42.3) for Sierra Leone. Assuming no change in the control measures for this epidemic, by November 2, 2014, the cumulative reported numbers of confirmed and probable cases are predicted to be 5740 in Guinea, 9890 in Liberia, and 5000 in Sierra Leone, exceeding 20,000 in total. These data indicate that without drastic improvements in control measures, the numbers of cases of and deaths from EVD are expected to continue increasing from hundreds to thousands per week in the coming months.
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              Likely Health Outcomes for Untreated Acute Febrile Illness in the Tropics in Decision and Economic Models; A Delphi Survey

              Background Modelling is widely used to inform decisions about management of malaria and acute febrile illnesses. Most models depend on estimates of the probability that untreated patients with malaria or bacterial illnesses will progress to severe disease or death. However, data on these key parameters are lacking and assumptions are frequently made based on expert opinion. Widely diverse opinions can lead to conflicting outcomes in models they inform. Methods and Findings A Delphi survey was conducted with malaria experts aiming to reach consensus on key parameters for public health and economic models, relating to the outcome of untreated febrile illnesses. Survey questions were stratified by malaria transmission intensity, patient age, and HIV prevalence. The impact of the variability in opinion on decision models is illustrated with a model previously used to assess the cost-effectiveness of malaria rapid diagnostic tests. Some consensus was reached around the probability that patients from higher transmission settings with untreated malaria would progress to severe disease (median 3%, inter-quartile range (IQR) 1–5%), and the probability that a non-malaria illness required antibiotics in areas of low HIV prevalence (median 20%). Children living in low transmission areas were considered to be at higher risk of progressing to severe malaria (median 30%, IQR 10–58%) than those from higher transmission areas (median 13%, IQR 7–30%). Estimates of the probability of dying from severe malaria were high in all settings (medians 60–73%). However, opinions varied widely for most parameters, and did not converge on resurveying. Conclusions This study highlights the uncertainty around potential consequences of untreated malaria and bacterial illnesses. The lack of consensus on most parameters, the wide range of estimates, and the impact of variability in estimates on model outputs, demonstrate the importance of sensitivity analysis for decision models employing expert opinion. Results of such models should be interpreted cautiously. The diversity of expert opinion should be recognised when policy options are debated.
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                Author and article information

                Contributors
                christopher.whitty@lshtm.ac.uk
                Journal
                BMC Med
                BMC Med
                BMC Medicine
                BioMed Central (London )
                1741-7015
                17 December 2015
                17 December 2015
                2015
                : 13
                Affiliations
                London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, UK
                Article
                544
                10.1186/s12916-015-0544-8
                4682263
                dcde849d-f71c-4f65-90ed-8f2778ce33de
                © Whitty. 2015

                Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

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                © The Author(s) 2015

                Medicine

                anthropology, economics, policy, politics, social science, synthesis, systematic reviews, trials

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