Health care research should be judged on its own merits

Up to now, scientific research has been largely assessed by its impact in scientific terms, although the impact on society is becoming increasingly important. Health care research needs to be accountable in societal terms, more so than biomedical research. It should therefore be assessed by different criteria, argue researchers from the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL) and institutes from Malta, Finland, England, Germany, Belgium and Norway in an article published in the journal Eurohealth International.

The effectiveness of biomedical research is often measured in patents and economic spin-offs that allow the marketability of the knowledge gained to be determined. For example, the European Union’s Framework Programme Horizon 2020 aims to create jobs and stimulate economic growth by focusing on scientific research. However, these assessment criteria are far less applicable to health care research.
NIVEL researcher Johan Hansen explains: “We think that the objectives of Horizon 2020 are too limiting. More and more emphasis is being placed on patents, products and spin-offs from research, but health care research can hardly ever be patented and that shouldn’t therefore be an objective. What you can do is offer policy-makers and the authorities insights into the consequences of their choices, or tell them about the state of the health care sector in terms of the number of doctors available or the degree to which hospitals function safely. This information is often very suitable for public information, for example when deciding which hospital or health care insurer to use. So measuring the effectiveness of such research will mean determining how it will be used by policy-makers, care providers, the government and the end users.”
The article in Eurohealth International is one part of the activities of a network of health care researchers known as Health Services Research of which NIVEL is the leading partner ( At the European level, the network collects examples of health care research that have had an impact on society so that the societal impact can be better defined. In 2014, the network will publish a policy letter outlining their findings. In addition, NIVEL will also carry out a self-evaluation of its own societal impact which will use a broader framework to determine the degree of impact.