‘I wonder what would happen if...?‘

The CSP’s latest research strategy encourages all physios to ask questions about their practice, as Janet Wright discovers

Curiosity is the driving force of scientific progress, and it’s something the CSP is encouraging members to explore.

‘If you ever get up in the morning with a question in your head, and in the shower you’re asking yourself “I wonder why that patient didn’t react well to that treatment when those others did?”, I‘d try to find out the reason in whatever way you can,’ says Ann Moore, director of the Clinical Research Centre for Health Professions at Brighton University.

It’s about the need for ‘evidence-based practice’: using skills you know are backed by solid research rather than tradition or personal ideas.

The CSP’s research strategy sets out the society’s approach to developing physio research up to 2016. It emphasises the need to have a strong culture of research, development and innovation underpinning the profession’s commitment to improving patient care and service delivery.

It also emphasises the need for all members, not just those working in academia, to play their part.

Members can, for example, keep up to date with the latest research relating to their scope of practice by reading Frontline’s regular Physio Findings column.

But others may want to do more than that. An individual physio can start the process of finding the answer to a clinical question, says the CSP.

The research strategy urges members at all levels to take part, to collaborate with those in other disciplines, to share their results as widely as possible and to get useful knowledge rapidly into practice.

‘Members can identify potential research questions and help expand the profession’s research base,’ says Sally Gosling, the CSP’s assistant director of practice and development.

‘All this is key to improving patient care and demonstrating the profession’s clinical- and cost-effectiveness.’

The benefit of research for patients is obvious, when practitioners use proven treatments - or stop using those that don’t work.

Research is also good for the profession, increasing its influence and standing.

A collaborative process

‘There are lots of opportunities for research,’ says Professor Moore. ‘It’s about everyone taking responsibility for their profession in developing the evidence base.’   

Professor Moore is one of a growing number of physios who have taken their research to the point of entering the academic world full time.

It’s not a career path you have to decide on while you’re still doing a physiotherapy degree, but can come much later in a physio’s career.

Many academic physios spent years in full-time clinical practice before helping out on someone’s research project – and finding they’re hooked.

The opportunities for those who choose this route are interesting, and often follow the CSP’s ethos of working collaboratively with colleagues in other disciplines.

They can continue seeking opportunities for research while holding down a clinical post. For a more academic route, they could take further courses at a local institute or start applying for fellowships.

A new ‘clinical-academic career pathway’ may be opening up for allied health professionals, nurses and midwives, based on a model already being used by doctors.

Physios could spend half their time in clinical practice, and half on research and some teaching, says Professor Moore. She is on the clinical academic careers programme development group which hopes to see a formal structure in place within about five years.

But for those still practising as physios the door to research is still open.

‘It is everyone’s responsibility to contribute in different ways and seize opportunities,’ says Dr Gosling.

Backing words with action, the CSP invests in research support and guidance for members, including through the Allied Health Professions Research Network.

The CSP Charitable Trust also offers funding for research projects, while the CSP seeks to raise the profile of physiotherapy research with other external funders, including government funding organisations and research charities.

The society’s website has extensive information on doing research (see: www.csp.org.uk/professional-union/research).

It’s all at your fingertips, right from the very first steps: advice on how to choose a research question and ensure that you’re not duplicating research that someone else has already done, through to networks, sources of funding, and groups and organisations that can offer advice.

The full, updated, research strategy is due to be published on the CSP’s website shortly. This will explain research priorities for the society, which will be based on a collaborative, partnership approach to ensure the best in patient care.

Key concerns for the CSP, expressed in the society’s corporate plan, include promoting physiotherapy’s role in keeping older people independent, helping people back to work and supporting public health.

To find the areas most in need of research – and therefore also most likely to attract funding –- check the site’s extensive list of priorities at www.csp.org.uk/researchpriorities.

Numbers count

A simple way to start engaging in research is by gathering data. ‘This is becoming increasingly important for demonstrating value and impact,’ says Dr Gosling.

‘In whatever sector, unless members use outcome measures to collect standardised data, in order to show that what they deliver is clinically- and cost-effective, there’s a danger that their service will not be commissioned,’ she says.

Professor Moore recommends collecting as much data as possible about your patient profiles.

In outpatients, for example, this may be age, occupation, diagnosis, how many treatments did they need, what treatments were they given, did they go back to work?

‘Once people start engaging with data they often identify research questions more easily,’ she says. ‘First, you ask yourself “What data do I need to support my service?”

‘If you collect data over a period of time and look at it, it’ll often show up questions that need answering,’ says Professor Moore. ‘Then you can do audits around that information. Are there standards we should be meeting?.’ 

Lost in translation

Completing a research project isn’t the end of the story. It’s of little use if no one knows about it. That’s when translating the research findings into clinical practice comes to the fore.

‘Active sharing and dissemination of research is important,’ says Dr Gosling. ‘Research undertaken and not shared is of limited value.’

Networking, publishing results and giving presentations are all ways of getting the message out. Finally, the findings need to be put into practice. Publishing the results helps with this, but proactive physios and managers can ensure that colleagues have taken them on board.

Then, as Professor Moore says, ‘you’ve benefited your patients, your profession and yourself as an individual’. And you can have your morning shower in peace. Until another question starts to bug you …

The next feature in this series will show how a physio-led research project, which is now improving patient care worldwide, ensured its results were translated into practice. fl


Getting involved in research: a pocket guide, edited by Ann P Moore and Philippa Lyon (National Physiotherapy Research Network, 2008).     
http://www.csp.org.uk/publications/getting-involved-research-pocket-guide-free-download There is also a 2012 update to download.  Allied Health Professions Research Network (AHPRN) – 21 local hubs offering support to researchers at all levels.


By 2016, the CSP wants UK physiotherapy to have a considerably strengthened evidence base, achieved and sustained by an increased capacity to produce, share and translate high-quality research into practice.

Among what’s needed...

  • UK physiotherapy practice, service delivery and education must be underpinned by a robust evidence base and a commitment to research-informed practice
  • Research-related activity must form an integral part of all CSP members’ physiotherapy roles and learning and development
  • CSP members must generate, share and use research to enhance and substantiate their contribution to delivering high-quality, cost-effective patient care
  • CSP members must engage in service evaluation and re-design
  • CSP members must engage in innovation and improvement initiatives.  


Janet Wright

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