Department of Orthopaedic Surgery

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A look at Outcomes Research

Why we look at Outcomes….

At the UCSF Spine Center, the “outcomes” obtained through our outcomes research program help us to measure what we would like our treatments to achieve – improvements in function, pain, and quality of life of our patients. By obtaining these outcomes, our physicians have a valuable method of following and measuring the progress of our patients and linking these results to specific types of conditions, treatments, and other factors so that, ultimately, we can optimize our care for each patient.

What is Outcomes Research?

According to the National Institutes of Health, outcomes research is research that “evaluates the impact of health care on the health outcomes of patients and populations… outcomes research emphasizes disease oriented evaluations of care delivered in general, real-world settings; multidisciplinary teams; and a wide range of outcomes, including mortality, morbidity, functional status, mental well-being, and other aspects of health-related quality of life.”

This type of research differs from the schema that most people hold when they think of research. In the past, clinicians have usually used tests in laboratories or well-designed and controlled clinical trials to determine whether a treatment is necessary and/or successful. The field of outcomes research came about when researchers and physicians realized that these controlled types of studies could overlook many of the things that matter most to patients, such as how much they can expect to improve after surgery. With outcomes research, all the data is typically “real-world” data and not data taken from a laboratory of tightly controlled and designed trials.

How is Outcomes Research used?

Outcomes research relies on informational collected from patients. These outcomes focus on healthcare from the perspective of the patient, as opposed to evaluations and measurements by physicians.

In recent years, there has been an increasing desire by physicians to learn more about the real world impact of the care they are providing. This is especially true for chronic conditions, like spinal disorders, whose treatment goals are to improve subjective factors, such as pain. The physicians at the UCSF Spine Center are dedicated to providing the best care; care that takes into account the perspective of their patients.

Another important factor relates to the rapidly changing modern medical practice. As part of this ongoing development, physicians recognize that they will be required to provide definitive evidence of the outcomes of the care they provide. This is called evidence-based medicine. Acquiring solid outcomes is a crucial building block for evidence-based medicine.

Generally,. outcomes research is used to:

  • Evaluate and compare the effectiveness of treatments
  • Measure the impact of treatments on the outcomes of patients
  • Evaluate the economic impact of treatments and link it to health outcomes (i.e. measure the cost-effectiveness of treatments)

Where can Outcomes Research take us?

The overarching goal of outcomes research is to gain information directly from patients to ensure that the treatments we provide give our patients meaningful changes in quality of life. This information also helps us to develop consequential practice guidelines and assists us in guiding physician decision-making by providing credible, objective evidence about the impact of treatment options.

Conducting and evaluating outcomes research is a valuable part of any academic medical practice. By providing a scientific way to measure the end results of medical care, the results of this research help physicians in various types of medical practices to make the most informed treatment evaluations for their patients. As the field of outcomes research continues to grow, so does our ability to scientifically evaluate treatments, both old and new, and to measure the end result of those treatments on the lives of real patients.

Why do I need to Fill out these FORMS?

The forms that we ask our patients to fill out at many of their visits make up a very important part of our UCSF spine research effort. These forms have been specifically tested to measure the health status and the impact of spinal disorders on patients’ health. Many other hospitals across the country that also do clinical research use these forms. This gives us a standard way to compare the results of different patients.

These forms are also very important, because they are specifically designed to measure the impact of a spinal problem on your health and also to measure how much your treatment has helped you. This helps us in our research because we can calculate how much better you are doing and this helps us evaluate from your perspective how you are feeling. This is an important factor in deciding if a particular treatment is good or bad. We ask you to fill out the forms because we would like to know your perspective and we need to be able to measure it to help others with spinal problems like yours. We thank you for your participation in our research – you are the most important part.