Systematic reviews of public health/health promotion & primary care interventions: Priorising review topics and encouraging peer review

Brunton G, Thomas H, Micucci S, Yamada J, O'Brien M, Underwood J

Background: In order to facilitate the use of research results in practice and policy-making, the Effective Public Health Practice Project has developed methods of involving practitioners, policy-makers and lay participants in determining research topics and reviewing drafts of systematic reviews on the effectiveness of public health/health promotion and primary care interventions. The purpose of this presentation is to describe the range and process of the methods used by this research group to encourage practitioner, lay and decision-maker involvement in systematic reviews of public health/health promotion and primary care interventions.

Methods: From the outset of this project, peer reviewers have been identified and asked to read drafts of the systematic reviews and then complete a standardized one-page questionnaire, indicating the acceptability of the format, readability and usefulness for their practice, programming or policy-making. For reviews completed in March 2000, a letter was sent to all 36 Medical Officers of Health in the Province of Ontario, asking respondents to identify practitioners or managers who could peer review drafts of reviews pertinent to their area of clinical expertise. Lay participation was sought from consumers with life experience in the topics under review. In 1997, the Ontario Ministry of Health, Public Health Branch published the most recent Mandatory Health Programs and Services Guidelines (MPHSG). This document outlines minimum public health programming expectations. Several months prior to the start of the new systematic review project year, a survey was sent to all Medical Officers of Health asking that they or their designates rank order a list of ten review topics based on the MPHSG. An option to include additional topics was also listed. Input on review topics was also provided by members of provincial review committees formed to review the MPHSG.

Results: For reviews completed in March 2000, a total of forty-five peer reviewers read drafts of systematic reviews related to their clinical area of expertise and provided feedback which was incorporated into the final publications. One lay participant provided feedback on a review draft. For reviews to be completed by December 2000, results for systematic review topics were tallied and the top three (low birth weight prevention, mass media interventions and physical activity promotion in children and adolescents) have been included.

Conclusions: Involving a broad and diverse group of public health professionals, policy-makers and consumers can inform public health research which is timely, relevant and useful to practice and decision-making. Future initiatives include involvement of professional organizations and preliminary evaluation of uptake among individuals involved in determining topics and/or peer review.