Douglas Zatzick, MD, is the principal investigator for a PCORI-funded project that aims to determine whether better care coordination and increased attention to patient concerns in trauma care can improve outcomes of importance to patients, their caregivers, clinicians, and policy makers.

Considering ways to use research findings can be as important as optimizing the research questions and study design, and should be incorporated early in the research planning process. “As early as you can, strategize and plan for how a particular transitional care intervention, if shown to be effective, may be integrated into policy or practice,” recommends Douglas Zatzick, MD, a principal investigator who says that determining how to make research evidence actionable is a common challenge for researchers working to improve transitional care.

Zatzick notes that it is valuable to develop collaborative partnerships early on and to use a team approach to think through potential next steps if a study demonstrates that a particular intervention is effective. “Creating change, especially in the policy arena, is a long-term, team effort,” says Zatzick, who has worked with front-line trauma center clinicians, patients, researchers, and policy makers for several years to integrate patient-centered care into US trauma care systems.

Prior to receiving PCORI research funding, Zatzick’s team began working with national organizations including the American College of Surgeons, which creates national trauma care guidelines, to bring discussion about patient-centeredness into the policy dialogue. The team developed the study with the ultimate goal of using research findings to stimulate change in current guidelines for trauma care.

Even with ongoing collaboration and a regulatory mechanism in place, Zatzick notes that entering the policy arena has been challenging. Another valuable insight from the team’s experience is that patient partners play an essential role in influencing policy change, by serving as spokespeople and helping to communicate research findings. “When patients become advocates for change, their voice can have a major impact,” he says.

Advice for Others

  • Engage a group of patients, providers, policy makers, and other stakeholders early in the research process to provide input on how to make research evidence relevant and actionable.
  • Develop collaborative relationships with organizations that have the ability to influence care delivery policies or guidelines based on research evidence.
  • Be patient and persistent in your efforts to stimulate policy change; there will be ups and downs along the way.

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