Does Indigenous health research have impact? A systematic review of reviews.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians (hereafter respectfully Indigenous Australians) claim that they have been over-researched without corresponding research benefit. This claim raises two questions. The first, which has been covered to some extent in the literature, is about what type(s) of research are likely to achieve benefits for Indigenous people. The second is how researchers report the impact of their research for Indigenous people. This systematic review of Indigenous health reviews addresses the second enquiry.
Fourteen electronic databases were systematically searched for Indigenous health reviews which met eligibility criteria. Two reviewers assessed their characteristics and methodological rigour using an a priori protocol. Three research hypotheses were stated and tested: (1) reviews address Indigenous health priority needs; (2) reviews adopt best practice guidelines on research conduct and reporting in respect to methodological transparency and rigour, as well as acceptability and appropriateness of research implementation to Indigenous people; and (3) reviews explicitly report the incremental impacts of the included studies and translation of research. We argue that if review authors explicitly address each of these three hypotheses, then the impact of research for Indigenous peoples' health would be explicated.
Seventy-six reviews were included; comprising 55 journal articles and 21 Australian Government commissioned evidence review reports. While reviews are gaining prominence and recognition in Indigenous health research and increasing in number, breadth and complexity, there is little reporting of the impact of health research for Indigenous people. This finding raises questions about the relevance of these reviews for Indigenous people, their impact on policy and practice and how reviews have been commissioned, reported and evaluated.
The findings of our study serve two main purposes. First, we have identified knowledge and methodological gaps in documenting Indigenous health research impact that can be addressed by researchers and policy makers. Second, the findings provide the justification for developing a framework allowing researchers and funding bodies to structure future Indigenous health research to improve the reporting and assessment of impact over time.