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The value of health research under the microscope in new report


Ottawa, ON – What is the value of medical research? Canadians spend considerable monies supporting health research, which is provided primarily through federal and provincial taxes and contributions to health charities. In this new era of fiscal accountability and restraint, many wonder whether these expenditures are justified. A report released last week by the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences provides a new framework to help answer this question.

The report was crafted by an international panel of experts convened by the Academy over the past 16 months and chaired by Dr Cyril Frank of the University of Calgary. The report was sponsored by 23 leading Canadian organizations united by a deep commitment to addressing this increasingly relevant issue. They included key government agencies, health charities, professional organizations and the private sector. Titled “Making an Impact: A Preferred Framework and Indicators to Measure Returns on Investment in Health Research”, the report sets out a series of key recommendations on how diverse organizations with differing missions can nonetheless measure and report the return on their investments in a consistent fashion. The assessment provides a new standard and measurement tools that facilitate enhanced opportunities for genuine accountability for funders of health research. It is accompanied by seven papers commissioned by the Panel. (For the complete list of panelists and sponsors, see http://www.cahs-acss.ca/e/assessments/currentprojects.php)

The report identifies five dimensions through which health research impacts should be measured: advancing knowledge; building research capacity; informing decision-making; improving health and the health system; and creating broad social and economic benefits.

“We have taken a broad perspective”, said Dr Frank, “We have developed a framework that is relevant to everything from fundamental laboratory science to research into the population health status of communities as well as to its broader economic and social impacts.”

“The next step is for research funders to collaboratively embrace the new framework and indicators to ensure Canada leads the way in what the report highlights as the new ‘science behind defining returns on investment'” says Dr Paul Armstrong, past-president of the academy. “Standardizing our approach and using common metrics and language will go a long way to advancing better understanding of this issue. The beauty of this approach is that it has something for everyone as well as the capacity to remodel over time as we learn more about the process.”