If I identify evidence that can improve the health of individuals or the health care system, is 17 years too long to wait for this evidence to start changing lives? There is an extended gap between when evidence about health improvement is identified, and when it starts to be systematically integrated into the health care system. This is a challenge for scientists.
In June this year I spent a few weeks in England catching up with my colleagues, meeting students and working on a European grant. One thing that I spent a lot of time talking about was the difference between 'dissemination' and 'translation'. As a scientist, we really want our research findings to become a part of global knowledge. Given that my work is in health, I really want the things that I have learnt or discovered, to have an impact on the everyday health experience of people in our time. A lot of my work is about dementia prevention and care. I want to know that information about dementia risk reduction strategies is being heard.
How is 'dissemination' different from 'translation'?
For many years there has been a focus on 'dissemination'. This means we make sure everyone is aware of our work. This continues to be very important. Recently, there has also been an emphasis on 'translation', which is an important shift. As researchers we are looking more closely at how we can contribute to personally improving the uptake of our research knowledge into practice. We now try to make an effort to also:
Explain our research findings in clear language;
To a relevant audience or group who might benefit from this new evidence;
So that as quickly as possible people might begin using our research.
Social media (eHealth) is a really useful, modern way, to connect with individuals and organisations, to explain our work and share what is often very recent findings and knowledge. We can also use this opportunity to describe how other evidence fits in with the work that we are doing.
The practical use of new knowledge
Remembering the question 'what does this mean for me?' helps as we identify if there is an opportunity for people to incorporate this knowledge into their personal lifestyle or organisational design. Our role in translation is to help clearly answer the question 'What does this mean for me? in practical ways so that people can see the opportunity the new evidence provides as early as possible (no one really wants to wait 17-20 years for change to start). One way that I do this is to write two regular blogs about research evidence and dementia risk reduction strategies structured to explain (translate) the evidence into an everyday context for individuals. I don't always mention 'dementia risk reduction' directly but that is the priority (You are reading a blog post from melindamartinkhan.com; my other blog is putofftilltomorrow.com).
Recommendations if visiting England in summer
The UK has a strong reputation for work in dementia. It was really helpful to be able to spend time there talking about dissemination and translation, and the use of social media as a tool (eHealth). It was also good to enjoy England in summer. Usually I go in winter (I love winter so I'm not complaining).
As usual, in these blog posts about what I am doing globally, I like to share my recommendations for when you visit that area. At this time of year the gardens are particularly beautiful (see the gardens at Worcester College Oxford to be inspired) and the British seaside is a great place to see people enjoying the summer. I keep trying to find the perfect 'fish and chips' (it's a mission) - I'd recommend The White Horse in Oxford (52 Broad Street) for an absolutely stunning battered fish. And head out to Worthing on a Sunday afternoon like I did for some amazing jam and scones by the sea at The Vintage Tea Room (21-22 Marine Parade).
The photographs I'm sharing from this visit are a selection taken not just by me this time, but by my son and my mother - all very keen photographers. I hope you enjoy them.