Together we can lead the way in research
The physiotherapy profession has strongly embraced evidence-based practice; unlike some other professions we’ve gone out of our way to challenge what we do and provide robust evidence for clinical practice. For that, our profession should be praised. One of the challenges, though, is that while there are an enormous number of trials, there remains many interventions for which we do not have strong evidence. There’s still plenty of work to be done.
One very strong aspect of research in our profession is that the divide between research and clinical application is far shorter for physiotherapy than for many other disciplines. In pharmacology, for example, it takes decades before a new drug gets from research to practice. Much of what our profession is doing involves a much shorter translation process because our work involves refining and designing conservative interventions that have low risk and high potential for success, and thus can be studied quickly and put into practice. Our challenge is to identify opportunities and design research that asks the right questions.
‘There needs to be a balance between clinical trials and research of the mechanisms underpinning the intervention.’
Physiotherapy research is necessary for several reasons. It is important to know that what we do works, and there is considerable research testing the efficacy of interventions. Something that we cannot forget is that it is critically important for us to also understand why interventions work. If we can understand why they work (or why they don’t), it helps us understand where we need to refine or find interventions that make a difference. It is easy to get caught up in simply testing whether our interventions are helping rather than understanding the underlying mechanism. There needs to be a balance between clinical trials and research of the mechanisms underpinning the intervention.
Another important aspect of physiotherapy research is that it is most fruitful when it is a partnership between clinical practice and research. Clinicians need to be involved in research to test their ideas and observations, and researchers need to be engaged with clinical practice because they need to make sure they are asking the right questions. We need to recognise the important role of all in this process. Researchers need to enable clinicians to have a voice in research to provide and comment on ideas and engage in conduct of research. Clinicians need to understand the potential limitations of clinical ideas and observations, and the role of research in challenging these.
The health research funding landscape is undergoing change and that has potential to create unease. The National Health and Medical Research Council is placing a much bigger emphasis on impact and translating knowledge, part of which involves this two-way communication between researcher and clinician. I believe the research community should embrace these changes as it is likely to work in our favour. While there is potentially less money available, because of the strong application of our research, we could be very well placed to be successful.
There is an opportunity for the profession to showcase the valuable impact of our research.
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