Interdisciplinary Research in Health Care

Health care systems, by nature, are inherently complex and multifaceted. The challenges they pose for patients, clinicians, managers and policymakers extend beyond the visible clinical, organizational and financial elements to include a mix of social, cultural, economic, political, ethical and legal factors. The design and conduct of rigorous science-based research to improve clinical practice and to inform health policy require contributions from multiple academic disciplines and health professions. In essence, health systems research necessitates an interdisciplinary approach for solving thorny problems and finding appropriate solutions.

Interdisciplinary research is a collaborative enterprise that draws upon the talents of investigators grounded in different disciplinary perspectives. For more than 20 years, I have had the privilege of directing the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Scholars in Health Policy Research Program, a two-year postdoctoral fellowship for outstanding young economists, political scientists, and sociologists. The program fosters research collaboration among these social science disciplines as well as with investigators in medicine, nursing, law, bioethics, epidemiology, public health, public policy, psychology, history, management science, and social work. The program stresses the importance of each investigator “learning the language” of other disciplines by internalizing the conceptual frameworks and analytic methods employed to address health care issues. In some cases, alumni have become multidisciplinary, incorporating the perspectives and methodological approaches of other disciplines in their research.

Because no single discipline or health profession can solve the many problems plaguing health care systems, a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach is becoming the norm in most nations. The NIHR CLAHRC West Midlands embodies this type of approach and offers unparalleled opportunities for academic and clinical researchers to join with practitioners, managers, local authorities, and patients in the community to translate research findings into best practices that will improve health and social services and result in better patient outcomes for the population of the West Midlands region and beyond.

Prof Alan B. Cohen, Professor of Health Policy and Management, Boston University School of Management

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