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Evidence into practice, experimentation and quasi experimentation: are the methods up to the task?
  1. N Freemantle,
  2. J Wood,
  3. F Crawford
  1. Department of Health Sciences and Clinical Evaluation, University of York.

    Abstract

    OBJECTIVE: Methodological review of evaluations of interventions intended to help health professionals provide more effective and efficient health care, motivated by the current experience of NHS Research and Development in England. Emphasis upon the forms of research appropriate to different stages in the development and evaluation of interventions, the use of experimental and quasi experimental designs, the methods used in systematic reviews and meta analyses. METHOD: A proposed development process is derived from that used in the development of drugs. The strengths and weaknesses of different experimental and quasi experimental designs are derived from published methodological literature and first principles. Examples are drawn from the literature. RESULTS: Like pharmaceuticals, implementation interventions need to go through several stages of development before they are evaluated in designed experiments. Where there are practical reasons that make random allocation impossible in quantitative evaluations, quasi experimental methods may provide useful information, although these studies are open to bias. It is rare for a single study to provide a complete answer to important questions, and systematic reviews of all available studies should be undertaken. Meta analytic techniques go some way towards countering the low power of many existing studies, reduce the risk of bias, and avoid the subjective approaches that may be found in narrative reviews. CONCLUSIONS: The initiative taken by NHS Research and Development in examining methods to promote the uptake of research findings is welcome, but will only prove helpful if careful attention is paid to the different stages of the development process, and different research approaches are used appropriately at different stages.

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