STUDY OBJECTIVE--The aim was to determine the scope and quality of published health services research concerned with medical practice in the United Kingdom. DESIGN--Scope of health services research was reviewed in articles published in 41 medical and public health journals in 1985. In random sample of 60 papers stratified by study design, 18 key research parameters were assessed for the quality of reporting and application in the studies. MAIN RESULTS--Over 80% of the research described in 246 articles was carried out by clinicians, mostly without acknowledged epidemiological or statistical assistance. More than half the studies were descriptive and only 17% were trials. In studies of hospital services, 4% covered long term care, in contrast to 67% concerned with inpatient care. One third of studies were conducted in general practice but only 10% of these included an assessment of clinical outcome. Important research parameters were often not reported; for example, response rates were missing in 52% of the studies, and comparability of cases and controls was not stated in 42% of relevant studies. Major inadequacies were found in the conduct of research, particularly in the selection of controls, allowance for confounding factors, objectivity of measurements, application of statistical tests, and conclusions reached. CONCLUSIONS--Published health services research concerned with medical practice in the United Kingdom is often conducted by clinicians without expert assistance. The quality of reporting and methods employed are deficient in many respects. Short training courses and other initiatives are required to enhance the quality of health services research in medical practice.
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