Getting Specific: Identifying and Selecting Specific Research Topics for PCORI Funding
Our National Priorities for Research and Research Agenda guide our funding of comparative clinical effectiveness research designed to help patients and those who care for them make better-informed healthcare decisions. We began our funding process in May, issuing the first PCORI Funding Announcements (PFAs) seeking proposals for a broad portfolio of patient-centered research that will address unmet needs of patients, caregivers, clinicians and other health care stakeholders.
We’re now developing a process to complement our broad PFAs by identifying specific research topics for funding. This process has five steps and it begins with you suggesting a question:
We are engaging patients, caregivers and the broader healthcare community to help us develop and implement this process. Once in place, our stakeholders will play an active role in helping us specify topics for funding that address the questions patients and caregivers want answered as a way to help them make better-informed decisions. Our Board of Governors will make the final decision as to which topics might be included in upcoming funding announcements.
We will identify research topics from many sources, including patients and other stakeholders, previous research prioritization processes, and tapping into the knowledge of other research funders. We received many suggestions for specific research topics during the public comment period for our National Priorities and Research Agenda. Those suggestions will be considered along with input from other PCORI forums and feedback processes. To make it easier for patients and stakeholders to submit suggestions, we’ve launched a web survey form, where anyone can provide your question and explain why we should study it. We encourage everyone to “Suggest a Question.”
PCORI is just one of many research institutions working to address, through comparative studies, questions that can improve patient outcomes. To avoid duplication and to build on previous efforts, we will consider topics identified by a variety of public and private organizations, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the National Quality Forum, the Institute of Medicine, and research and patient advocacy groups.
Ensuring topics address a research gap
We’ll also systematically evaluate current research and evidence to ensure that questions identified have not been previously answered and are not being studied by others. A team of researchers will undertake this check on each topic received. The NIH and AHRQ assessment programs will help determine if others already are looking at a question we’ve identified. Additional reviews of research inventories and our growing relationships with stakeholders will be vital in directing our research funding to areas where significant knowledge gaps exist. Research that addresses a recognized gap may be more likely to be noticed and, if appropriate, more quickly put into practice.
Assessing topics based on PCORI criteria
Any specific research questions we might pursue also must meet the criteria unique to our patient-centered mission. Questions we’ll use to evaluate specific research topics will include:
- Is the proposed research patient-centered and focused on questions and outcomes of specific interest to patients, their caregivers and clinicians?
- Is the condition or disease associated with a significant burden in the U.S. population, in terms of prevalence, mortality, morbidity, individual suffering, or loss of productivity?
- Are the differences in benefits between the interventions under consideration sufficient to warrant conducting a research study?
- Will the study reduce the uncertainty around the treatment effects?
- How likely is it that the findings will be implemented in practice?
- How long will the information from the research be valid?
- Does the research promise potential improvements in convenience or elimination of wasted resources, while maintaining or improving patient outcomes?
- Does the research topic have the potential to include a diverse population with respect to age, gender, race, ethnicity, geography, or clinical status, or alternatively to include an understudied population?
These criteria are based on criteria outlined in our PFA Application Guidelines but have been adapted to help ensure that PCORI is considering topics that are both patient-centered and most likely to produce information that will be useful to patients, caregivers, and clinicians in the decision-making process.
Even as we solicit research questions to study, we are developing a process for prioritizing the specific research topics that we should fund – a deliberation and ranking process that will involve patients and other stakeholders. A working group made up of PCORI Board and Methodology Committee members is developing this process, with input from patient and stakeholder representatives. Patients and stakeholders will pilot this process in November; it will be vetted further in our December 5 public workshop, “PCORI Methodology Workshop for Prioritizing Specific Research Topics.” After the process is implemented, our Board will review prioritized lists of potential topics and make final selections.
Creating funding announcements for selected topics
In this final step, we will create targeted funding announcements based on the specific topics identified and vetted by patients and other stakeholders and approved by our Board. The result will be patient and stakeholder-driven research projects that are part of a broader portfolio that addresses questions of specific interest to patients, their caregivers and their clinicians.