As a first-time attendee to the Annual Research Meeting (ARM) in June, I was interested in seeing interdisciplinary research on improving health outcomes. My training is in zoology, public health, and nursing—each of these influence my research in unique and meaningful ways. Importantly, my clinical and educational experiences instilled in me the importance of diverse viewpoints in addressing pressing healthcare challenges. I aim to promote health equity by identifying individuals at high risk for adverse health outcomes due to social and environmental factors and then working in interdisciplinary teams to create population-level interventions to improve health outcomes. I am also interested in research methods, as rigorous and systematic methods are the foundation for research and policymaking.
Engaging the End User in Research from End to End
Health services researchers should be strategic in how, and when, they engage stakeholders in research. Speakers in two sessions, “Social Determinants of Health in Health Care Delivery” and “Deepening, Expanding, and Evolving Partnerships in Patient-Centered Outcomes Research” discussed the importance of addressing social determinants of health across multiple ecological levels. Involving stakeholders from various sectors provides different perspectives on barriers or facilitators to care at all levels. Diverse stakeholders—including fellow researchers, community members, policymakers, clinical partners, and operations partners—can speak to the various aspects of the healthcare system, thus increasing the relevance of HSR. The two sessions I attended included information on how: (1) evidence exists within and outside of the health care setting; and (2) researchers need to consider how they can share resources, ideas, dissemination plans, and findings within and outside of the health care setting. Stakeholders can also help identify and understand the needs within the community, translate practices or data, interpret data, and bring unique skills to address different parts of the research question or agenda.
One way stakeholders can increase the impact and relevancy of HSR is by helping researchers be cognizant of the potential positive impacts and unintended consequences of our research. A seemingly underlying theme of ARM—and mantra heard in multiple sessions and conversations was, “If we aren’t at the table, we are not able to make an impact.” HSR does not exist in a vacuum—future challenges should be addressed by incorporating stakeholders in the research process. Engaging with others from other disciplines, philosophies, professions, and histories is challenging because you may wonder: Who do I engage? How do I engage them? When should I engage the stakeholders? Why should I engage stakeholders? I learned at ARM that to meaningfully engage another individual takes sustained: 1) effort, as relationships develop over weeks or months; 2) resources, as both parties need to be willing to share their experience and knowledge honestly; 3) open-mindedness, as individuals in other disciplines approach situations differently; and 4) respect, as individuals may use unfamiliar and different research methods.
I left ARM with an increased desire to engage in meaningful collaborations with stakeholders. Researchers need to be savvy about the facilitators and barriers to obtaining health care at all levels – from the individual up to the federal policies. One way to positively impact health outcomes is by engaging diverse stakeholders in identifying, and then addressing, problems within our health care system. Health services researchers should not work in isolation because if we work in isolation, we risk duplicating efforts, and missing information that will affect our interventions, data that can help address the problem, or potential solutions.
ARM as Key to Multidisciplinary Collaborations with Stakeholders
Last year, on the one-year anniversary of defending my dissertation, I made a goal to make a new connection each month. Over the past year, I have expanded my professional network by meeting with a variety of people and stakeholders. Some connections have even led to collaborations such as investigating diabetes distress and intervention engagement, involving community partners in research, and examining patient perceptions of data visualizations in diabetes self-management! AcademyHealth’s ARM was an important opportunity to build on these connections because I learned about new research areas, obtained new insight into methods to address my own research, and expanded how I think about my own research.
As my dissertation anniversary comes again, I challenge you to get out of your comfort zone and professional silo and to be intentional about incorporating diverse stakeholders in your research. Over the next several months, venture out and meet with someone who does not share your professional background, use your usual research methods, or study the same research topic as you. Be intentional and make this interaction meaningful.
At first, finding common ground with a stakeholder can be awkward and may take some work, but a big-tent organization like AcademyHealth is a great place to start. Check out ways to get involved and meet other members here. I promise, talking to people outside your professional silo gets easier after a few minutes if you stay open-minded. You’ll learn new perspectives and gain new insight into your own research. If you accept my challenge, please let me know on Twitter how it goes!