Research: In the beginning...

Last updated: Friday, March 24, 2017

Perhaps the 'ultimate' in problem solving is to conduct your own research: you have a question and want an answer, so you undertake a study to find out. Most hospital pharmacists who undertake research tend to investigate pharmacy practice and service developments. This kind of research seeks to understand how the pharmacist's knowledge and skills should best be used to meet the needs of patients, and their impact upon care. Here are some typical examples:

  • Do ward managers know about the on-call pharmacist service, what it's for, and how to access it?
  • How can pharmacy staff detect and manage risks to patients arising from an e-prescribing system?
  • What do inpatients most want to know about a newly-prescribed medicine when counselled by a pharmacist?
  • Does a pharmacist-run anticoagulant clinic reduce the risk of raised INRs and bleeding?
  • What's the best way to train band 6 pharmacists to perform medicines reconciliation?

There are many reasons why research might be needed, and often they are inter-related. Some examples are shown in the diagram below.


Research vs audit vs service evaluation

The objective of research is to generate new knowledge; the findings can be used as generalisable evidence to define what should happen in practice. Audit, on the other hand, is concerned with investigating whether a service meets a defined standard: it usually compares actual practice with an authoritative guideline.

A helpful quote that summarises this difference: "Research is concerned with discovering the right thing to do; audit is ensuring it is done right" (Smith, R. 1992, Audit & Research, BMJ, 305:905-6).

Audit requires some of the same skills as research, and is a good place to start as it can throw up research questions. The table below offers some examples of each type of project.


In addition, there are also service evaluation projects where you might be asking patients or staff what they think of a specific local service using a questionnaire. These investigations are often not considered to be 'research' from the NHS point of view because the results are only applicable to the specific service under scrutiny – they are not generalisable. For example, you might ask patients to complete a questionnaire assessing their experiences of using your outpatient pharmacy.

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