A new project at the University of Manitoba is looking to create better access for the media on research covering health policy topics.
The Best Evidence Network project will link journalists to academics who publish reports on these issues, creating a forum for communication on health policy research.
“In the health policy area, we do a lot of research as academics that [is not] widely reported in the press around a lot of issues,” said lead investigator, Noralou Roos, professor in the faculty of medicine’s Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.
Roos explained that often the evidence produced by research projects counters what is discussed in the newspaper.
“We’re interested in trying to figure out how [to] communicate on these issues where we think there is very good evidence, but the evidence typically isn’t reported on in the media,” said Roos.
The project involves working with journalists to determine what kind of information would be most useful to them and where miscommunication happens when discussions between academics and journalists take place.
“Part of it is just going to be having discussions between journalists and academics [involving] how they see the same issue,” said Roos.
She continued, “Trying to communicate about ‘why aren’t we communicating better’ is probably the first major step.”
Part of the problem journalists sometimes have when reporting on issues related to health policy is gaining access to material that is easy to understand.
Roos explained that part of the project would focus on making this information accessible.
“One of the things we want to do is make sure we’ve got good web coverage, reports that make sense [that] are easily understood, [reports] that aren’t written for other academics — they’re written for communication with people who don’t necessarily have that background,” said Roos.
Digvir Jayas, vice-president research at the University of Manitoba told the Manitoban that this project would streamline the relaying of information to the public.
“Improving communication with media by assisting in the translation of research evidence ultimately gets that information out to the public who are affected by and most interested in the research,” said Jayas.
Roos echoed Jayas, saying that the press plays an important role in creating awareness about health care issues.
“When we have good evidence that something is effective, [or that] something isn’t effective, it’s import to get it out there,” said Roos.
“These are some of the issues that are continually appearing in the press and so we’re just trying to raise the level of conversation.”
The project will receive $370, 000 from the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR) Partnerships for Health System Improvement grant, as well as $97, 000 from the Manitoba Health Research Council.
The CIHR has worked with the media before. It created its Journalism Award program in 2009 to foster media coverage of health and health research. The organization has also hosted workshops where members of the media can talk with health researchers about the latest evidence on certain issues.
Yet the Best Evidence Network project is unique in that it is devoted to improving the accuracy of reporting on health systems issues.
“Healthcare managers, policy makers and practitioners can be as influenced by the media as the rest of us,” said Chris McCutcheon, a spokesperson for the CIHR.
Any effort to improve the accuracy of how healthcare issues are reported will increase the likelihood that we all receive healthcare based on the best available evidence.
The research unit, the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy, where the project will be worked on, is recognized internationally for its knowledge translation efforts.