Researchers, for decades, have relied primarily on biomedical measures, such as the results of laboratory tests, to determine whether a health intervention is necessary and whether it is successful. However, when clinicians use only these measures, they miss many of the outcomes that matter most to patients.
The difference between traditional clinical measures for a disease and the outcomes that matter to patients can be dramatic. In one example, researchers found that men with identical symptoms of benign prostate disease (in which the prostate enlarges and interferes with urine flow) often had very different opinions about how severe their disease was and how much it bothered them. Furthermore, the biomedical measure (urine flow rate) most often used to evaluate the need for treatment had almost no relationship to patients’ symptoms.
Having realized that, a wake-up call was made for outcomes research. In fact, the need for outcomes research was underscored in the early 1980s.
What is outcomes research?
Outcomes research seeks to understand the end results of particular health care practices and interventions. End results include effects that people experience and care about. In particular, for individuals with chronic conditions—where cure is not always possible—end results include quality of life as well as mortality. By linking the care people get to the outcomes they experience, outcomes research has become the key to developing better ways to monitor and improve the quality of care. Here are some examples of health outcomes
- Mortality: e.g. Infant death rate
- Physiologic measures: e.g. Blood pressure
- Clinical events: e.g. Stroke
Why is outcomes research imperative?
For clinicians and patients, outcomes research provides evidence about benefits, risks, and results of treatments so they can make more informed decisions. For health care policy makers, outcomes research can identify potentially effective strategies they can implement to improve the quality and value of care.