Health Services Research (HSR) is a form of interdisciplinary applied health research. It is characterised by the employment of mixed methods (quantitative and qualitative) and cross-discipline collaboration between specialties that span public health, epidemiology, biostatistics, health economics, health psychology, operational research, medical sociology, anthropology and health policy analysis. The majority of these disciplines are represented within the Institute of Health & Society and the majority of studies across all four research themes can be considered to be HSR in the broadest sense.
HSR is wide-ranging in its foci and purpose. It aims to improve the quality of health care and/or health outcomes by identifying the most effective ways to organise, manage, finance, and deliver health care, to reduce medical errors and to improve patient safety. HSR studies seek to explain how social and demographic factors (e.g. socioeconomic characteristics, age, ethnicity), financing systems, organisational structures and processes, health technologies and personal behaviours (of health care professionals, patients and carers) affect access to and use of health care, the quality (effectiveness, efficiency, equity) and the cost of health care, and ultimately impact on health and well-being.
Health Technology Assessment (HTA) forms a major component of HSR. The International Society of Technology Assessment in Health Care has defined HTA as “the systematic evaluation of the properties, effects and/or other impacts of health care technology. Its primary purpose is to provide objective information to support health care decisions and policy making at the local, regional, national and international levels.” Within the Institute of Health & Society, studies of health technologies may be found across our research themes, funded in the main by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), in particular through its Health Technology Assessment (HTA) and Research for Patient Benefit (RfPB) programmes.
Another key source of funding for HSR as defined above will be the new NIHR Health Services and Delivery Research (HSDR) programme, to be launched in early 2012. This new programme will have two main workstreams – one on health services research (HSR – albeit with a rather tighter definition than the one above) and one on healthcare delivery research (HDR). The former will “focus on research into the quality, appropriateness, effectiveness, equity and patient experience of health services”. The latter will “focus on evaluating models of service delivery and interventions which have the potential to improve service effectiveness, efficiency and productivity”. Implementation research and knowledge mobilisation will be key components of this new programme of research, which we anticipate being a target funder for the Institute of Health & Society, particularly through our research theme of Decision Making and Organisation of Care.