A research study is a scientific means of examining the characteristics of variables to further our understanding of a particular subject or topic. The subject or topic of study can include such things as a theory, ideology, or principle, medication, tool, device, process or health intervention. A research study can be done to describe variables and/or to determine the association of exposure and outcome variables regarding the research topic.
Research studies are dichotomized into either a qualitative study or a quantitative study. Qualitative studies gather non-numerical data, whereas quantitative research involves collectings numerical data. Research studies also subdivide into either interventional studies or non-interventional (observational) studies. For interventional research studies, the researcher performs some intervention or manipulation of one or more groups in the research study and compares the outcomes to the other groups to help analyze the variables of interest. For non-interventional research studies (often called observational research studies, cohort studies, etc.) the research collects the variables of interest without any intervention or outside influence by the researcher on the groups under study. Other classifications of research studies exist depending on the purpose and utility of the study, examples include health systems research and operational research.
One of the primary concerns in doing research is the identification and formulation of the research problem (i.e., research question). The research problem should be ethical, researchable, significant, and feasible. In medicine, the goal of the research is not only to add relevant findings to the scientific body of knowledge but also to provide a beneficial, useful contribution to stakeholders, particularly the patients.
The second area of concern for research studies is selecting the correct research study to perform. Many times descriptive and qualitative research must first take place to produce a robust, significant and feasible research hypothesis for later quantitative research methods. Additionally, different research study types have different levels of strength and risk of bias as delineated in the hierarchy of research study designs.
Operational research has become useful in recent years, especially in the implementation of health programs. The focus of this study is on systems and services with the goal of improving efficiency and effectivity of specific processes adapted in health systems. For public health practitioners, however, research objectives must be clearly distinguished from the program or project objectives. Research objectives, in the context of operational research or any study types, must be directed to the development of new knowledge; unlike program objectives which dwell more into carrying out the actual projects and activities.
The significance of research studies and its findings collectively support both clinical and public health needs. The discovery of new medicines and new treatment modalities for specific diseases can be made using randomized clinical (control) trials, more commonly termed as RCTs. Public health, both as a medical and a social science, can choose from a wide range of qualitative studies, descriptive, analytic, community-based trials, and operations researches, among others, to explore and describe the characteristics of certain groups of populations and its associations to the disease process or a particular health intervention, yielding findings that will inform policymakers and stakeholders.
In clinical settings, case studies and case series can be used by clinicians, surgeons, and other clinical specialists to scientifically document and describe the occurrence of rare diseases. Researchers can perform studies to determine the association of exposure variables or risk factors in rare diseases or cohort studies to investigate rare exposure variables present in the study population. Meanwhile, studies such as meta-analysis and systematic review are good choices for researchers who want to summarize the results of previous research findings, in quantitative and qualitative means, respectively. Mixed methods are employed to combine and exhaust the utility of the research type or study design combinations (e.g., quantitative and qualitative studies).
Research studies can be both simple and complex; thus, can be performed in several ways which must be consistently systematic and scientific. The acquisition of new research findings will eventually find utility in the application of evidence-based medicine (EBM). Research study must be carried out within the walls of medical ethics, free of bias and primarily geared towards the welfare of our patients rather than just merely the expedition of science.
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