Health Services Research conference – Highlights from Day 1



Our Health Services Research conference kicked off yesterday at King’s College London. But what were the highlights of Day 1? What did we learn? Guest bloggers, Jay Shaw and Anita Kothari, round up the first day with their key moments:

Day 1 was packed full of speakers focused on Health Systems issues. We present some highlights:

Keynote speaker Professor Nicholas May, Professor of Health Policy in the Department of Health Services Research and Policy at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, started the day by discussing the relationship between research and policy in today’s climate. He argued that there has been a widespread call for policy evaluation as the way to engage with evidence-based policy making. In other words, there is a popular idea that policy experiments will prove what works, through randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental approaches, and policymakers will take this ‘evidence’ up as they decide on policy options.

In his usual provocative style, May put forth that RCTS ignore contextual factors, provide evidence that is not the sort of evidence needed for policy making, and limits our attention from developing other techniques to knowledge generation that reflect a more realistic approach.

The general theme of the importance of context in the face of policy development was echoed by Talib Mirzoev, from the University of Leeds, who showed how micro, meso and macro level contextual factors facilitated (or blocked) the use of evidence in policymaking in India and Nigeria.

How to define context, how to measure context, and how to harness it during policymaking are interesting questions, and relate to the second key theme that we saw run through the first day of the conference: the importance of global forces in local health systems.

Professor Goren Tomson gave a provocative talk highlighting the need for visionary ways of thinking about health systems and health policy. He emphasized that in the case of health systems, this means recognizing that high-income countries can and should learn from the experiences of low- and middle-income countries.

Using a case study of his previous work on the Lao National Drug Policy, Professor Tomson explained how lessons were learned that could benefit his home country of Sweden (and other Western Nations) in addition to the important impact of his work on drug treatment availability in the country of focus. Professor Tomson finished his talk with a call to action – we can all contribute in important ways to improving the health of the global populace.

The theme of global health remained throughout the talks on the first day of the conference, as speakers emphasized the importance of recognizing the impact of globalization on National health systems. The continuous flow of people and ideas across National contexts means that health policymakers and practitioners need to understand social and economic forces that might originate from other parts of the world. This leads into the challenge we bring into the second day of the conference: How to recognize the impact of context in a globalizing world, while focused on local improvements in our systems of health and social care.


Day 1 is now over but there’s two more days to cover. Stay in tune for the next few days with the #HSRConf2014 hashtag!

You can follow Jay and Anita’s conference tweets on the conference Twitter account (@hsrconf).

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