Implementation science links research with real-world practice to improve health

October 3, 2012 by Steve Tokar

Why do medical research findings often fail to reach the people who could benefit from them most? And why are health programs proven to work in one setting frequently unable to achieve success in other places?

These and other questions are the focus of "implementation science," a field of study that addresses the wide-ranging challenges of translating research knowledge into real-life practice.

"Implementation science is a relatively new way of describing efforts to improve health by taking advantage of proven — though often underutilized —  and thoughtfully and creatively applying them for general use," said Ralph Gonzales, MD, a professor in the UCSF School of Medicine and director of the Implementation Science (ImS) program at the University's Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI).

In practice, implementation science covers diverse activities, including working to change behaviors such as ensuring that clinicians wash their hands regularly, improving care in hospital delivery rooms, and collaborating with community groups to promote through youth-focused activities, said Margaret Handley, PhD, MPH, co-director of the ImS program. It also may focus on research in environments defined by complex variables, such as tracking and treating tuberculosis in developing countries, helping women make informed decisions about , or linking with community-engaged research.

According to Gonzales, as more researchers learn about implementation science, it's not uncommon to hear comments like, "Haven't researchers been doing this all along in areas such as applied science and public health?"

Implementation Science is Inherently Multidisciplinary

There's more to implementation science, he said. ImS applies theories and principles from diverse fields—economics, behavioral and social sciences, public health, marketing, public policy—and is inherently multidisciplinary. For researchers with years of training in a medical specialty, collaborating with diverse colleagues is not as common, nor as simple, as people might think. 

Recognizing that ImS is a key component of translational research, which is ultimately focused on improving health, Gonzales and his team at CTSI are leveraging training and community-building to bridge the gap.

"Training offers researchers the tools, skills and strategies needed to address important contextual factors—including human practices, not all of which are rational or easily predictable—that may be limiting the widespread use of a proven intervention or preventing a project from being sustainable," said Sara Ackerman, PhD, MPH, a medical anthropologist and the ImS program coordinator.

The goal is to train researchers to ask the right questions and design interventions that are relevant and acceptable to their audience — whether at the level of individuals, communities, institutions, or policies, she added.

Implementation science training and support opportunities include a one-year, part-time certificate program and a master's degree program in clinical research with an ImS track. Both are offered through the Training in Clinical Research (TICR) program. In addition, the CTSI Consultation Services program offers expert advice in implementation science methods and principles from UCSF faculty.

Building an Implementation Science Community at UCSF

"Implementation science is a growing discipline, and it's exciting to be pulling together a diverse community of researchers," said Handley, who also is a public health-trained epidemiologist and associate adjunct professor in the UCSF School of Medicine. "There are great lessons to be learned from those with a wide range of experience, including thinking about touch points and opportunities for collaboration earlier in the research process. At UCSF, we're helping investigators develop a skill set early in their careers so that they can come to good ideas more quickly."  

However, she said, there are researchers and clinicians engaged in implementation science-type projects at UCSF who aren't even aware of it, or they have misconceptions such as the belief that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) doesn't fund this type of research. With that in mind, an effort is underway to build a community of like-minded scientists to dispel myths, promote and support interdisciplinary collaborations, and help direct investigators to funding opportunities.

Researchers interested in learning more or joining a growing community of ImS researchers at UCSF can contact Ralph Gonzales or Margaret Handley. Also follow the ImS program on Twitter.

UCSF's CTSI is a member of the Clinical and Translational Science Awards network funded through the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences at the NIH (Grant Number UL1 TR000004). Under the banner of "Accelerating Research to Improve Health," CTSI provides a wide range of services for researchers, and promotes online collaboration and networking tools such as UCSF Profiles.

Explore further: UCSF experts highlight need for innovation in recruiting participants for clinical trials

Related Stories

UCSF experts highlight need for innovation in recruiting participants for clinical trials

December 23, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- In a commentary published in the November issue of Academic Medicine, top recruitment experts at UCSF urge academic medical researchers to embrace new methods for recruiting participants into clinical ...

Easing complex medication management with computer tools

August 9, 2012
For the millions of heart patients taking warfarin, an anticoagulant drug used to prevent dangerous blood clots, dosing is a time-consuming hassle. Too little won’t work; too much can be dangerous.

Researchers: Societal control of sugar essential to ease public health burden

February 1, 2012
Sugar should be controlled like alcohol and tobacco to protect public health, according to a team of UCSF researchers, who maintain in a new report that sugar is fueling a global obesity pandemic, contributing to 35 million ...

New pill recognition software has implications for emergency and clinical settings

April 16, 2012
Saturday, 2 AM.  A 911 dispatcher receives a frantic call: "I found my roommate passed out. I think she may have overdosed!" 

Revealing the importance of culture in Latino dental health

August 9, 2012
Maria Orellana, DDS, PhD, assistant professor in the UCSF School of Dentistry, has long observed that Latino parents are often more resistant to having their children get braces or retainers to straighten teeth than parents ...

Recommended for you

Pickled in 'cognac', Chopin's heart gives up its secrets

November 26, 2017
The heart of Frederic Chopin, among the world's most cherished musical virtuosos, may finally have given up the cause of his untimely death.

Sugar industry withheld evidence of sucrose's health effects nearly 50 years ago

November 21, 2017
A U.S. sugar industry trade group appears to have pulled the plug on a study that was producing animal evidence linking sucrose to disease nearly 50 years ago, researchers argue in a paper publishing on November 21 in the ...

Female researchers pay more attention to sex and gender in medicine

November 7, 2017
When women participate in a medical research paper, that research is more likely to take into account the differences between the way men and women react to diseases and treatments, according to a new study by Stanford researchers.

Drug therapy from lethal bacteria could reduce kidney transplant rejection

August 3, 2017
An experimental treatment derived from a potentially deadly microorganism may provide lifesaving help for kidney transplant patients, according to an international study led by investigators at Cedars-Sinai.

Exploring the potential of human echolocation

June 25, 2017
People who are visually impaired will often use a cane to feel out their surroundings. With training and practice, people can learn to use the pitch, loudness and timbre of echoes from the cane or other sounds to navigate ...

Team eradicates hepatitis C in 10 patients following lifesaving transplants from infected donors

April 30, 2017
Ten patients at Penn Medicine have been cured of the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) following lifesaving kidney transplants from deceased donors who were infected with the disease. The findings point to new strategies for increasing ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.