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Open Access Research article

Identifying the barriers to conducting outcomes research in integrative health care clinic settings - a qualitative study

Marja J Verhoef1*, Andrea Mulkins1, Ania Kania1, Barbara Findlay-Reece23 and Silvano Mior4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Community Health Sciences, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada

2 Samueli Institute, Alexandria, Virginia USA

3 Omni Health, White Rock, Canada

4 Department of Research, Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Toronto, Canada

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BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:14  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-14

Published: 14 January 2010

Abstract

Background

Integrative health care (IHC) is an interdisciplinary blending of conventional medicine and complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) with the purpose of enhancing patients' health. In 2006, we designed a study to assess outcomes that are relevant to people using such care. However, we faced major challenges in conducting this study and hypothesized that this might be due to the lack of a research climate in these clinics. To investigate these challenges, we initiated a further study in 2008, to explore the reasons why IHC clinics are not conducting outcomes research and to identify strategies for conducting successful in-house outcomes research programs. The results of the latter study are reported here.

Methods

A total of 25 qualitative interviews were conducted with key participants from 19 IHC clinics across Canada. Basic content analysis was used to identify key themes from the transcribed interviews.

Results

Barriers identified by participants fell into four categories: organizational culture, organizational resources, organizational environment and logistical challenges. Cultural challenges relate to the philosophy of IHC, organizational leadership and practitioner attitudes and beliefs. Participants also identified significant issues relating to their organization's lack of resources such as funding, compensation, infrastructure and partnerships/linkages. Environmental challenges such as the nature of a clinic's patient population and logistical issues such as the actual implementation of a research program and the applicability of research data also posed challenges to the conduct of research. Embedded research leadership, integration of personal and professional values about research, alignment of research activities and clinical workflow processes are some of the factors identified by participants that support IHC clinics' ability to conduct outcomes research.

Conclusions

Assessing and enhancing the broader evaluation culture of IHC clinics prior to implementing outcomes research may be a critical step towards ensuring productive and cost-effective research programs. However, as IHC clinics are often complex systems, a whole systems approach to research should be used taking into account the multidimensional and complex nature of such treatment systems so that the results are useful and reflect real life.