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This report is from AHRQ's Future Research Needs – Methods Research Series.
Systematic reviews and other secondary research reports that are based on data from multiple sources, such as decision or cost-effectiveness analyses, often conclude by noting gaps in the available evidence and make recommendations for future research. Potential users of these recommendations include policy makers and funders, as well as healthcare researchers. The purpose of this project is to determine an optimal format for presenting a new type of product of the Evidence-based Practice Center (EPC) Program, the Future Research Needs documents. In particular, we address the following questions: What level of specificity is needed by various funders or researchers for a research needs document to be useful? How can one categorize and present research needs? What are the specific barriers to making a research needs document useful to researchers and funders?
To answer these questions, we performed an empirical assessment of the literature to understand how future research needs have been presented in the published literature, and sought feedback from healthcare researchers, research funders, or payers in the form of open-ended interviews. Based on the results of the empirical assessment and the qualitative interviews we outline the preliminary recommendations. Future research needs documents for the EPC program should provide succinct yet adequate description of methods and results following guidelines for reporting for qualitative research and modeling, as applicable. It is important to justify the selection of the stakeholders who participate in identifying or prioritizing research needs, and to be clear on their degree of engagement. It may be useful to report results of future research needs assessments at two levels of detail: the more abstract level would mention general areas of future research without details on potential research designs or specific details on e.g., populations, interventions and outcomes, which could be elaborated in the second level. It may be preferable to avoid explicit prioritization of research needs when there are no clear differences in the perceived strength of alternative recommendations. Overall, future research needs recommendations are projections and therefore should not be prescriptive.