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Investment into national research agenda critical to advancing evidence-informed health policy in Australia

27 June, 2024

A new paper published in the Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) this month sets out the case for using Living evidence syntheses to address key challenges of translating evidence into health policy, now and into the future.

‘Living evidence syntheses – or LES for short – are the products of systematically reviewed and summarised research evidence that are kept continually up to date – including living systematic reviews, living evidence briefs, or living evidence-based guidelines,’ explains lead author, Dr Samantha Chakraborty.

‘They provide health system decision-makers with reliable and contextualised summaries of evidence as evidence emerges in near real-time. This revolutionary method of rapid evidence gathering, appraisal and synthesis has become feasible with methodological and technological advances in the past 5 to 10 years – and came it to its own during the COVID-19 pandemic.’ 

‘LES are especially valuable where policymakers need timely, up-to-date, robust and accessible answers to significant issues. They’re essential in situations where evidence is emerging rapidly, or the health or policy context is shifting.’

Rapid translation of research into health policy using LES is increasing globally with the World Health Organization, Cochrane, Pan American Health Organization, US Government and National Institute for Health and Care Excellence all committing to adopting LES approaches. This includes addressing some of the known barriers to evidence-informed policy, such as mis-aligned timing between evidence production and policy development; differences in context between researchers and policymakers; and lack of resources or capability to find reliable evidence within policy settings. 

‘Internationally, the use of LES has been focused primarily on discrete clinical areas, such as treatments for stroke. As we outline in our MJA paper, there’s now an opportunity to realise the substantial potential benefits of LES for health systems, and to lead this field internationally, by establishing an Australian research agenda for LES focused on policy questions.’

‘We know the COVID-19 pandemic presented an unprecedented challenge for Australian health decision-makers to ensure that policy decisions kept pace with societal needs. LES played a crucial role in providing decision-makers with the best available evidence to inform health system responses,’ Samantha explains. ‘The National Clinical Evidence Taskforce’s (NCET) LES approach ensured that evidence moved swiftly from publication of research studies, to appraisal, through to synthesis of recommendations for clinical care. An evaluation of the Taskforce found that this model was considered to be ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ valuable to clinicians and policymakers.’

‘Our MJA paper sets out the benefits of a national research agenda for translating LES into health policy in Australia now and into the future. We need to strengthen policy decisions with up to date evidence, because we know that policy that’s informed by the latest evidence is likely to produce better outcomes than policy that is informed by individual studies, older less current evidence or no evidence at all.’

Read the full article here.