Implementation of new treatments and technologies is more important than simply discovering them – a course teaches just that. By Rachel Davis

Worldwide, billions of pounds are invested every year to develop new treatments, procedures and technologies that aim to improve healthcare services and, ultimately, population health. Some of these interventions, once tested, may not be successful, but many offer the potential for better health outcomes for patients.

Very few of these interventions however, will be adopted into daily healthcare practice (even if they are recommended by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence and other guideline authors) and for those that are, not all will turn out to be as effective as they were during the research. However, many new treatments, procedures and technologies would save lives if they were put into everyday practice – and save the NHS money.

Fresh infusion

The National Institute for Health Research 2014-2015 annual report highlights a new blood management system trialled by Oxford NIHR Biomedical Research Centre that saved Oxford University Hospitals Trust half a million pounds last year. By using barcode technology, the system ensures that every patient receives the right type and right amount of blood.

If implemented across the NHS, this system could reduce medical errors and save £50 million annually.

Why aren’t patients always offered treatment and care that is informed by the latest knowledge?

So why aren’t patients always offered treatment and care that is informed by the latest knowledge? The answer to this is, of course, complex, and is influenced by a host of political and organisational factors, as well as by healthcare professionals and patients.

However, the simple truth is that we spend a lot of time developing evidence but we don’t always spend enough time thinking about the best way to put it into practice.

Implementation science – the study of methods that promote the uptake of research findings into healthcare policy and practice’ – aims to address this oversight. Placing importance on both the development of effective interventions and effective ways to implement them, it helps us to understand how we can bring about positive and sustainable improvements in healthcare.

The field is closely aligned with improvement science, which examines the impact of different improvement strategies on patients’ experiences, their health and their safety.

Better to study it

Academics at King’s College London and St George’s, University of London, working together with the support of the NIHR, have created an MSc in Implementation and Improvement Science. Awarded by King’s College London, the course is suitable for clinicians, allied health professionals, healthcare managers and researchers working in the NHS, voluntary or private sector, patient activists and those working in policy and commissioning.

Addressing complex health problems requires the bringing together of different professions to enable interdisciplinary working and the cross-pollination of ideas – this is something which we have not done particularly well at in the past, and is one of the challenges within the field.

Training people to develop and implement effective interventions will lead to better, longer term health outcomes

Lecturers on the course include national and international experts in implementation and improvement science. Students also attend a two-day Masterclass led by academics from all over the world. In 2015, the Masterclass faculty included Brian Mittman (USA), John Øvretveit (Sweden), Rahul Shidhaye (India) and Sharon Straus (Canada).

The course gives individuals the knowledge and practical skills they need to make a real difference to health services. Training people to develop and implement effective interventions will lead to better, longer term health outcomes for patients – and cost reductions for the NHS.

To find out more about the MSc, and other short courses in implementation and improvement science, please contact Rachel Davis on rachel.davis@kcl.ac.uk.

There is more information on both the CLAHRC South London website and the King’s College London website http://www.clahrc-southlondon.nihr.ac.uk/msc-implementation-and-improvement-science and http://www.kcl.ac.uk/prospectus/graduate/implementation-and-improvement-science/ respectively

Rachel Davis is lecturer at King’s College London