Ebola or Other Outbreak: When We Can’t or Shouldn’t Experiment

 What do we do to study the cause of disease when we cannot or should not expose people to disease risk (i.e., manipulate the independent variable). For example, while we want to understand Ebola transmission and outcomes, legally and ethically we cannot & should not expose people to Ebola risk factors.   We cannot do Ebola experiments on people.

Thus, we have to observe what happens when nature takes its course. One common research design in which we let disease/nature take its course is a case-control study. What is a case-control study?

Here’s a quick explanation.   The researcher looks for people who have (or had) the disease and then looks back in time at their history of exposure to risk factors for the disease. Those who have been exposed and who did not (or not yet) get the disease are the control subjects. If risk factors for the disease are not well-known then it may be difficult to find control subjects because we would have a hard time telling who was exposed.

Case-control and other studies in which we look back at what happened in the past are called retrospective studies. (In contrast, most nursing studies are prospective studies—in other words they start at the present and move forward. For example, if we were doing research on Ebola symptom management, we would try out symptom management strategies on persons with Ebola and measure into the future how well those strategies work.)

A great flow diagram and clear explanation of case control studies is at http://www.ciphi.ca/hamilton/Content/content/resources/explore/fb_case_v_cohort.html . Check it out!

Critical thinking practice: If you were to design a case-control study related to information in the excerpt below, answer these questions:

  • Who would be the case subjects?  
  • Who would be the control subjects?
  • What are the risk factors?
  • Why would the study be retrospective?

“Ebola virus, a member of the Filoviridae group, is transmitted by direct contact with blood, secretions, or contaminated objects and is associated with high case-fatality rates (28). Investigations of outbreaks in Africa suggest that Ebola infection may be more severe during pregnancy and that mortality rates are higher. Pregnant women infected with Ebola more often have serious complications, such as hemorrhagic and neurologic sequelae, than do nonpregnant patients (31). Unlike risk for death from Lassa fever, which is highest during the third trimester of pregnancy, risk for death from Ebola is similar during all trimesters (33).” (Jamieson et al, 2006, http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/12/11/06-0152_article)

 

In Conclusion: “Back to the future”

A great conclusion to a study can take several forms.   One of these is like the abstract. The researcher summarizes the entire study in 100-200 words or so.   Researchers can also end with the suggestions for future research or an intriguing quote.   A great conclusion will give you the “bottom line” of why the study is important to you!

Thus it is sometimes valuable when FIRST encountering a new research article, to scan the abstract, intro, discussion/implications, and conclusion FIRST.   This will give you the big picture—the 30,000 foot level picture. Then you can get down at “ground level” and read the whole research article more carefully.

Research reports are Not mystery novels, and the plot will Not be spoiled if you read the conclusion first!  You may find that doing this makes it easier to understand the article.

If you are writing a research report yourself, then make sure that you keep the conclusion lively and interesting!   You know your project—what is THE main take away that you want readers to have?

CRITICAL THINKING….

Assume that you read the following Conclusion from Brown & McCormack (2006) BEFORE reading the rest of the article.   What ideas would you look for in the article that show up here in this “end-of-the-article-abstract-and-implications”? Which of their conclusions would you check out within the main article?

     This ethnographic study highlighted a number of issues that affected the older persons’ pain experience in the acute surgical setting. Additionally, it provided insight into how nurses approached the assessment and management of pain in this patient group. The study demonstrated the value of applying multiple sources and methods of data collection in order to obtain a more complete view of the competing forces that operate within the ward environment.

     Data analysis revealed three action cycles for further developmental work – pain assessment practices, knowledge/ insight and strategies to cope with episodes of uncontrolled pain and organization of care, along with ward culture, have been identified as having an inhibitory effect on pain management in older people. In addition, recognition that patient barriers may contribute to ineffective pain management is a point worthy of consideration.

     Improving pain management practices, therefore, requires healthcare professionals to reflect on reactions, values and beliefs surrounding pain and examine how these have the potential to influence the care provided. Consequently, there is a need for a focused, collaborative, interdisciplinary approach to challenge current pain management practices and implement change. There is a growing acknowledgement that successful interventions must deploy multiple strategies, targeting aspects of the individual, the organization, its culture and characteristics of the message, simultaneously (Kitson 2001). (p.1296)

Reference: Brown, D., & McCormack, B. (2006). Determining factors that have an impact upon effective evidence-based pain management with older people, following colorectal surgery: An ethnographic study. The Authors. Journal compilation, 1987-1298. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2006.01553.x

“What are you implying?”—the question to ask about Findings*

As you read closer and closer to the end of a research report, you should start asking, “What are the implications of what this researcher found?”   In other words now that the findings show X what is the Y that we do in response?

Sometimes the researcher labels a section IMPLICATIONS. Other times implications are included in the DISCUSSION section.

What implications you look for may depend on your role. Are you a direct, inpatient care RN? Then you want to know what the research implies about the need to maintain or change practice.   Are you in staff development or teaching clinical students? Then you want to know whether this means you should be teaching something or some “how-to” differently.   Management/administrator? Then what does this mean for leadership or organizations. And,…if you’re a researcher, then you want to know what is the next question raised by this study, OR perhaps does this study need to be repeated before we can feel confident in the findings.   (Of course, if you’re a student looking at a study may mean that you are one step closer to completing one of those evidence-based assignment papers.)

If you look carefully, you will see that the researcher tells you what they think the implications are for patient care, education, management, research, students, patients, or others.

Research does not give final answers. Exhilaratingly a research article often raises more questions than it answers—especially because any research project can only narrowly be designed to examine one teeny area of reality.   (OK. Perhaps only researchers would find that thrilling.)

So, as you read think: What do these research findings mean for RN practice?

Critical Thinking Practice: Find the implications in this excerpt from the Discussion section of Brown & McCormack (2005):  The study revealed that accurate and holistic pain assessment for older people were (sic) deficient in the acute surgical setting…. As a number of older people experienced hearing difficulties, it was also possible that patients did not respond because they misunderstood or simply did not hear what they were being asked. Herr and Mobily (1991) suggest that a reliable assessment of the older persons’ pain can be best obtained if they are offered privacy rather than asked to discuss pain in a public location. Whilst this can be difficult to achieve in a ward environment, measures such as drawing the curtains or moving closer to the patient, may afford some improved degree of enhanced communication and privacy for pain assessment. (p.1295)

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*In earlier posts at http://discoveringyourinnerscientist.blogspot.com/ , I summarized what titles, abstracts, introductions, methods, results, and discussions sections of a research report are all about.

“It’s All in The Name!” Titles of Research Articles

Research articles have relatively standardized sections:

• Title 
• Abstract (overview of project that is somewhat incomplete)
• Introduction (purpose, problem, & background)
• Methods (sample, setting, measurements collected)
• Results (data analysis from measurements), &
• Discussion/conclusions (what the data analysis tells us about the original purpose & problem)
These may vary a little from article to article.

Let’s look at the TITLE for a minute. A good title is a mini-abstract. A good title will include:
• Key variables (remember a variable is something that varies, such as fatigue or satisfaction)
• Population studied
• Setting of study
• Design of study

For example take this research article title “What patients with abdominal pain expect about pain relief in the Emergency Department” by Yee et al in 2006 in JEN.
• Key thing that varies? Expectations about pain relief
• Population studied? ED patients with abdominal pain
• Setting? May be the ED
• Design? (not included, but those with experience in reading research would guess that it is probably a descriptive study—in other words it just describes the patients’ expectations without any intervention.)

There you have it! Now you know about TITLES!!

NEW site to Discovering Your Inner Scientist

Welcome to my new Discovering Your Inner Scientist blog location–a site focused on nursing evidence-based practice and scientist interests!  This site should be more user-friendly.

The blog remains focused on the interests primarily of staff RNs and is inspired by my colleagues at Dignity Health Northridge Hospital Medical Center.

For earlier posts on how to read research, go to http://discoveringyourinnerscientist.blogspot.com/  .   I plan to pick up the discussion here where that site left off, and I will continue to welcome your comments.

Making research accessible to RNs

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