Thought For Today

The Value, Importance, and Oversight of Health Research

The previous chapter reviewed the value of privacy, while this chapter examines the value and importance of health research. As noted in the introduction to Chapter 2, the committee views privacy and health research as complementary values. Ideally, society should strive to facilitate both for the benefit of individuals as well as the public.

In addition to defining health research and delineating its value to individuals and society, this chapter provides an overview and historical perspective of federal research regulations that were in place long before the Privacy Rule was implemented. Because a great deal of medical research falls under the purview of multiple federal regulations, it is important to understand how the various rules overlap or diverge. The chapter also explains how the definition of research has become quite complex under the various federal regulations, which make a distinction between research and some closely related health practice activities that also use health data, such as quality improvement initiatives. Check out these comprehensive clinical services.

The chapter also reviews the available survey data regarding public perceptions of health research and describes the importance of effective communication about health research with patients and the public.




Under both the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule and the Common Rule, “research” is defined as “a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” This is a broad definition that may include biomedical research, epidemiological studies,1 and health services research,2 as well as studies of behavioral, social, and economic factors that affect health. Take a look to the latest steel bit pro reviews.

Perhaps the most familiar form of health research is the clinical trial, in which patients volunteer to participate in studies to test the efficacy and safety of new medical interventions. But an increasingly large portion of health research is now information based. A great deal of research entails the analysis of data and biological samples that were initially collected for diagnostic, treatment, or billing purposes, or that were collected as part of other research projects, and are now being used for new research purposes. This secondary3 use of data is a common research approach in fields such as epidemiology, health services research, and public health research, and includes analysis of patterns of occurrences, determinants, and natural history of disease; evaluation of health care interventions and services; drug safety surveillance; and some genetic and social studies (Lowrance, 2002; Lowrance and Collins, 2007).

The Importance of Health Research

Like privacy, health research has high value to society. It can provide important information about disease trends and risk factors, outcomes of treatment or public health interventions, functional abilities, patterns of care, and health care costs and use. The different approaches to research provide complementary insights. Clinical trials can provide important information about the efficacy and adverse effects of medical interventions by controlling the variables that could impact the results of the study, but feedback from real-world clinical experience is also crucial for comparing and improving the use of drugs, vaccines, medical devices, and diagnostics. For example, Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of a drug for a particular indication is based on a series of controlled clinical trials, often with a few hundred to a few thousand patients, but after approval it may be used by millions of people in many different contexts. Therefore, tracking clinical experience with the drug is important for identifying relatively rare adverse effects and for determining the effectiveness in different populations or in various circumstances. It is also vital to record and assess experience in clinical practice in order to develop guidelines for best practices and to ensure high-quality patient care. Read more about resurge.

Collectively, these forms of health research have led to significant discoveries, the development of new therapies, and a remarkable improvement in health care and public health.4 Economists have found that medical research can have an enormous impact on human health and longevity, and that the resulting increased productivity of the population contributes greatly to the national economy (Hatfield et al., 2001; Murphy and Topel, 1999) in addition to the individual benefits of improved health. If the research enterprise is impeded, or if it is less robust, important societal interests are affected.

The development of Herceptin as a treatment for breast cancer is a prime example of the benefits of research using biological samples and patient records (Box 3-1) (Slamon et al., 1987). Many other examples of findings from medical records research have changed the practice of medicine as well. Such research underlies the estimate that tens of thousands of Americans die each year from medical errors in the hospital, and research has provided valuable information for reducing these medical errors by implementing health information technology, such as e-prescribing (Bates et al., 1998; IOM, 2000b). This type of research also has documented that disparities in health care and lack of access to care in inner cities and rural areas result in poorer health outcomes (Mick et al., 1994). Furthermore, medical records research has demonstrated that preventive services (e.g., mammography) substantially reduce mortality and morbidity at reasonable costs (Mandelblatt et al., 2003), and has established a causal link between the nursing shortage and patient health outcomes by documenting that patients in hospitals with fewer registered nurses are hospitalized longer and are more likely to suffer complications, such as urinary tract infections and upper gastrointestinal bleeding (Needleman et al., 2002). These findings have all informed and influenced policy decisions at the national level. As the use of electronic medical records increases, the pace of this form of research is accelerating, and the opportunities to generate new knowledge about what works in health care are expanding


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