Following the success of the inaugural colloquium last year, the Centre for Palliative Care (part of St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne and a Collaborating Centre of the University of Melbourne) organised another excellent gathering of around eighty palliative care researchers on 7-8th August 2014, which was held in the elegant surroundings of the Rendezvous Grand Hotel Melbourne.
The conference kicked off with the Early Career Researcher Breakfast Forum. Entitled ‘Building a Career in Research’, dozens of eager early career researchers (and quite a few self-professed ‘early early career researchers’) listened intently to talks from Prof Jon Emery, A/Prof Jenny Philip, Prof Janet Hiller and Anna Ugalde. They prescribed healthy doses of ‘persistence, mentorship, good ideas and luck’, encouraged brevity when writing project proposals (‘write like Tim Winton’), explored the importance of mentorship and collaboration, and provided invaluable tips on how to apply for funding and disseminate findings. The interactive panel discussion at the conclusion of the forum offered up even more open and honest advice, rounding off a great start to the two-day event.
After a brief welcome from Prof Peter Hudson, the opening plenary featured Prof Rob Moodie, who shared insights garnered from his extensive public health experience. He highlighted the importance of collaboration between researchers, consumers and policymakers in order to produce evidence relevant to the needs of the population and develop policy that promotes best practice. Rob also pointed out that ‘it’s not enough to be right… evidence is essential but not sufficient’, and challenged researchers to modify their language in order to more effectively communicate their findings to policymakers and the community.
A health economics double act from Prof Danny Liew and A/Prof Cathy Mihalopoulos provided a comprehensive overview of this emerging hot topic in palliative care. They proposed that the current reality of health care in Australia is economics-based rather than evidence-based. They spoke of the need for clinicians and researchers to think beyond efficacy and consider effectiveness and value (cost-effectiveness), while acknowledging that health economics decisions have ethical implications. Key references from their presentations include: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22071573, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23079301 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23838378.
‘Utilising existing large data sets to enhance knowledge’ was the title of the session after lunch. Prof Lorna Rosenwax and Prof David Currow walked the audience through both the possibilities and limitations of data linkage and dataset studies, managing to make statistics and data mining inspiring and exciting, which was no mean feat after a sumptuous buffet! They also weaved a moral imperative into their discussions by imploring their listeners to perform ‘ecologically-sound research’ by reusing and recycling existing data. The offer of ‘leftover data’ provided a tempting segue into afternoon tea.
The final presentation of the day saw Prof Patsy Yates dispense practical wisdom on applying for competitive grants (such as those administered by the National Health and Medical Research Council). From her perspective both as an applicant and as a member peer review panels, Patsy spoke candidly about the current reality of research funding in Australia, the shifting focus of funding bodies towards innovation and knowledge translation, as well as the challenges of the peer review process.
Dinner and drinks at the Trust was a convivial affair set in the stylish milieu of yet another old Melbourne institution. Toasts were made, old friendships rekindled and new acquaintances met. It was a most enjoyable way to end a long day of brain stimulation.
It was hard to see how the second day could hope to match the quality of the first. But the organisers succeeded by putting together a complementary program, which began with an update on implementation science. Nancy Owens delivered a crash course on social media, which was timely given Michael Chapman’s brief plug for www.palliverse.com and the torrent of tweets being generated by the colloquium audience using #2APCRC. Using her experience from working for the Cochrane Collaboration, Nancy discussed the broadcasting, networking, crowdsourcing and advocacy capabilities of various social media platforms and highlighted opportunities for increased publicity, collaboration, dissemination and consumer engagement.
Denise O’Connor delved into the theory and evidence behind implementation intervention, providing a framework for thinking about translating research into practice. A sample of her references include: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9277610, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14568747, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23512568 and http://www.implementationscience.com/series/TDF.
The third speaker of the session was Prof Janet Hardy, who used real-world examples from her research career to illustrate the essential yet difficult task of research implementation. In particular, she discussed the results of a survey of ANZSPM members regarding their use of subcutaneous ketamine for refractory cancer pain, following a comprehensive dissemination program that was built into the Palliative Care Clinical Studies Collaborative (PaCCSC) ketamine study.
A wonderful qualitative counterpoint to the quantitative focus of the previous day, Prof Eleanor Holroyd’s thorough exploration of ethnography was rooted in her extensive experience derived from years of fieldwork and supervision. She suggested that by teaching clinicians to ‘see through the eyes of the other’, medical ethnography could be a very helpful part of education and training.
Prof Phyllis Butow examined the intricacies of involving culturally and linguistically diverse people in research in the final lecture of the colloquium. While there are numerous benefits to be gained from working with these populations, there are also many obstacles that must be overcome. Drawing upon her own background as a psycho-oncology researcher, Phyllis suggested a number of ways around these barriers, such as employing bilingual staff or utilising centralised telephone services, audiotaping conversations, distributing question prompts and patient information booklets in the patient’s own language, providing cross-cultural training for clinicians, as well as utilising cultural brokers in addition to interpreters.
Thus the 2nd Australian Palliative Care Research Colloquium concluded. However, an overwhelming show of hands by delegates supported the idea of holding another meeting next year. It would certainly be fantastic if this excellent forum for research exchange takes place again in 2015!
This article was first published in the Australian and New Zealand Society of Palliative Medicine Newsletter 2014 Issue 2 (August).