In the previous decades, scientific research on “how to improve healthcare” has been increasingly recognized as a legitimate field of research [1
]. It has evolved under various names, including implementation science, knowledge translation (KT) research, improvement science, evidence-based practice, research utilization, delivery science, and patient safety science [3
]. Also across a range of other academic fields, such as clinical epidemiology, medical education, and clinical sciences, researchers have started to pay attention to questions concerning how to improve healthcare. Dedicated scientific journals have emerged, such as Implementation ScienceBMJ Quality and Safety
, and the International Journal for Quality in Health Care
. These developments have occurred across the world, although not at equal speed and shape across countries, facilitated by major health-research funders, such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, ZonMW in The Netherlands, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and (more recently) the National Institutes of Health in the United States [4
]. Policy makers at the highest level are calling for more and better research in the area [5
From our perspective, as academics engaged with improving healthcare, these developments are very positive. Whilst we continue to have debates on the nomenclature, epistemology, concepts, methods, and ways forward for the field, we share the same ambition. Our core idea is that we need to use a scientific process to understand how knowledge is translated into healthcare practice, management, and policy to achieve the best possible (health) outcomes at the optimum value. This implies that we want to learn about the needs of research users and address those needs. Implementation science has been defined as “the study of the methods and results of the implementation of proven treatments, practices, organizational and management interventions into routine practice” [8
]. The variety of other names attached to the field bring their own nuances to the area [9
], but the reality is that there are far more commonalities in the research conducted under these different names than differences. For instance, the focus on “proven” interventions in implementation science is relative because the applicability of research evidence in a specific setting may be at stake, new research can change what is regarded proven, and interventions may be adapted when implemented, which may influence their “proven” effectiveness.
We firmly believe that our research serves the needs of decision makers in healthcare—health professionals, managers, policy makers, and, indeed, also patients—aiming at improving outcomes of healthcare for patients and societies. Our research contributes to the sustainability and productivity of healthcare systems, which is increasingly important given current global challenges of scarce resources and increasing demands. Many of us focus on specific health-profession groups, healthcare organizations, or defined clinical area (as clinicians, managers, or policy makers). This is crucial for having impact on clinical, organizational, and policy decisions and practices, but it has also led to a fragmentation across various domains of healthcare and health sciences, as well as in fields beyond healthcare. We believe that this situation reduces progress in this academic field. It is a strength that we have heterogeneous backgrounds and research training, but it also adds to the fragmentation and the lack of a comprehensive and integrated strategic research agenda to advance scholarship in the area. For instance, we attend a wide range of conferences and training programs, and many of these lend themselves to practical application rather than scientific research. Some countries have established dedicated platforms for our field (e.g., United States and Canada), but in other countries such platforms are lacking.
Thus, we believe that creating international links between researchers to enhance scientific discussion would enhance the field. Setting up an international society focusing on the conduct of science in this area is one way to facilitate these linkages. In this editorial, we now reflect on the arguments for starting such a scientific society. Our aim is to start an international debate, to discover if we can establish a shared vision across academics and stakeholders engaged with providing scientific knowledge on how to improve healthcare.