Fostering Research Culture in Allied Health Services

One of the key roles of the Allied Health Clinical Research Office is to foster a culture of research among allied health professionals. But is investing in research a worthwhile endeavour? What are the benefits, and what are the barriers? What strategies are most likely to be effective?

A series of projects led by staff of the Allied Health Clinical Research Office and in collaboration with members of the Allied Health Clinical Research Committee have sought to answer some of these questions, both to inform our own strategic direction and to contribute to knowledge in these areas. So what have we learned?

There is an association between a strong research culture and improved organisational performance

A systematic review of the literature published by our team in Australian Health Review in 2016 demonstrated that organisations that demonstrate a research culture by investing in research, participating in research and/or providing research opportunities for staff are more likely to have improved performance on measures including patient mortality, staff satisfaction and retention, and organisational efficiency.

Harding, K., L. Lynch, J. Porter and N. F. Taylor (2017). "Organisational benefits of a strong research culture in a health service: a systematic review." Aust Health Rev 41(1): 45-53. 

About 1 in 7 allied health clinicians is “very interested” in research

Understanding the nature of the allied health workforce was an important place to start in designing strategies to help build a research culture. Our first survey of allied health professionals at Eastern Health was conducted with 132 participants in 2007. The Research Spider survey tool was used to examine clinicians’ level of research experience and level of research interest across ten core areas. Overall, allied health professionals rated themselves as having ‘little research experience’, and as a group had only had ‘some interest’ in research. However, fifteen percent were very interested in research. The findings support the development of strategies to target these ‘very interested’ clinicians to foster the next generation of allied health researchers.

A follow up survey was conducted in 2015 to see if changes can be measured at an organisational level, 10 years after the introduction of the allied health clinical research office. Results indicate that although research interest is similar across the two cohorts, in 2015 the clinicians who identified as being interested reported higher levels of experience in some domains. These results suggest that the introduction of the research office has led to more opportunities

Stephens, D., N. F. Taylor and S. G. Leggat (2009). "Research experience and research interests of allied health professionals." Journal of Allied Health 38(4): e107-111. 

Taylor NF, Harding KE, Porter J, Horne-Thompson A, Wallis J, Kerridge G, Wilby A, Joy A, Kaminski MR, Sheats J, Wilson E. (in press). Evaluating the introduction of an allied health clinical research office at a health service on research participation, interest and experience of allied health professionals. Journal of Allied Health (accepted 15 March 2018).

Small group training and mentoring is an effective way to help clinicians “Step into Research”

Since 2008, the Allied Health Clinical Research Office has run the “Stepping into Research Training Scheme”, a program that uses a combination of small group training and one to one mentoring to take participants through the process of writing a systematic review of the literature. Two evaluations of the program, one completed with the first cohort to complete the program and another reporting 6 year follow up have demonstrated that the program results in measurable research outputs, is well received by participants and mentors, and has been successfully translated to another health service setting.

Harding, K. E., D. Stephens, N. F. Taylor, E. Chu and A. Wilby (2010). "Development and evaluation of an allied health research training scheme." Journal of Allied Health 39(4): e143-148. 

Harding, K. E., N. Shields, M. Whiteside and N. F. Taylor (2016). "A Great First Step into Research": Stepping Into Research Is an Effective and Sustainable Model for Research Training in Clinical Settings: A Report of 6-Year Outcomes. J Allied Health 45(3): 176-182. 

A cultural shift is required to improve the uptake of Evidence based practice in allied health

Evidence-based practice(EBP) is a key principle in the delivery of effective and high-quality healthcare. This study used 8 focus groups ofalliedhealthprofessionals and managers to explore the attitudes andbarriersto EBP. The findings showed that EBP was not highly valued bycliniciansand managers or viewed as a core component of clinical care, with activities directly related to moving patients through the hospital system viewed as higher priorities. Lack of skills and resources and difficulty associated with implementingevidenceintopracticewere furtherbarriers.

Achieving higher uptake of EBP amongalliedhealthclinicians requires a cultural shift, placing higher value on these activities despite the challenging context of constant pressures to increase patient flow.

Harding, K., J. Porter, A. Horne-Thompson, E. Donley and N. Taylor (2014). "Not enough time or a low priority? Barriers to Evidence-Based Practice for allied health clinicians." Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions 34(4): 224-231.