Last October 9, 2019, medical practitioners from different regions of the country momentarily stepped back from the bustling scenes of their hospitals to revisit the intricate world of health research through ISA’s Skills Lab on Crafting Hospital Research Agenda held at Green Sun Hotel, Makati City. 

Prompted by the updated National Unified Health Research Agenda (NUHRA) of the Department of Health (DOH), ISA offered this course for the first time as part of the Skills Lab series to revitalize the role of medical research within hospitals’ strategic agenda, recognizing that the growth of healthcare services banks on the growth of the medical knowledge the hospital has. 

The event began with a context-setting lecture delivered by Dr. Timothy John R. Dizon from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM). He first described the health research scene in the Philippines, noting how there was a lack of local research pursuits that could provide diverse perspectives on healthcare. These gaps, as Dr. Dizon said, were also reinforced when the formulation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) prompted health officials to take a closer look at health-related development concerns in the country, thus creating a stronger need for the NUHRA. Given that, Dr. Dizon advised the participants to align with the NUHRA as it serves as a guide for all health research initiatives integrated with national development efforts.

From crafting to execution

The next module dove into the technical aspects of crafting a hospital research agenda. In it, Dr. Dizon underscored that a good research agenda must not only be responsive to research priority areas but must also have a sound design that is focused, realistic, evidence-based, and linked to stakeholders. On the last note, Dr. Dizon reminded participants, “We do research always to improve [our] services, to improve the quality of life of patients.”

Continuing the process from crafting to execution was Dr. Fe Esperanza J. Espino, Head of the Parasitology Department of RITM, who oriented participants on the dynamics of the relationship between primary research players and the network of people involved in the research. Among these people listed by Dr. Espino to whom researchers are accountable are patients, guardians, health workers, and regulatory authorities such as the Ethics Committee. She emphasized that the welfare and interest of the research participants must be placed at foremost priority, ensuring that sensitive medical information is obtained ethically and kept confidential.

To put the theory into practice, Drs. Espino and Dizon later facilitated a workshop on outlining a research agenda, where participants were asked to come up with research topics they intend to take on, complete with a list of resources required and the health issues addressed by the study.

The balancing act

Dr. Espino’s next module revolved around the hurdles that naturally come with getting medical studies in motion. Aside from the lack of skills and resources, she also recalled the difficulty that lies in balancing a high-impact, time-consuming research with one’s usual hospital duties.

Matrabaho na [ang] ginagawa natin, matrabaho pa ang research. But that’s why there’s [such a thing as] good planning,” said the medical researcher.
(“What we do already involves a lot of work. Even more so with research. But that’s why there’s [such a thing as] good planning.”)

Dampening as these challenges were, the participants’ motivation to pursue research was reanimated through the words of the last speaker, Dr. Juliet J. Balderas, Head of the Office for Strategy Management (OSM) of the Philippine Heart Center (PHC). Dr. Balderas drew attention to the vital role that hospital research plays in the fulfillment of a hospital’s strategic objective. 

She recounted how in order for PHC to get to their ideal future state as articulated in their strategic position, they had to significantly deepen their understanding of the cardiovascular field to realize the different points of entry that PHC could utilize to inject preventative and responsive interventions against heart diseases. As a final note, Dr. Balderas called on participants to lead the alignment and prioritization of medical research within the strategy maps of their respective hospitals. 

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