PHIRN: Population Health Improvement Research Network

Spotlight on John Frank

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John FrankJohn Frank trained in Medicine and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto, in Family Medicine at McMaster University, and in Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He has been Professor (now Professor Emeritus) at the University of Toronto, in the Department of Public Health Sciences (now the Dalla Lana School of Public Health), since 1983. He was the founding Director of Research at the Institute for Work & Health in Toronto from 1991 to 1997. In 2000,Dr. Frank was appointed inaugural Scientific Director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research - Institute of Population and Public Health. In July 2008, he became Director of a new Edinburgh-based Unit, funded by the Medical Research Council and the Scottish Chief Scientist Office: the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy. The Collaboration seeks to develop and robustly test novel public health policies and programs to equitably improve health status in Scotland, through the convening and ongoing support of researcher/research-user consortia. Prof. Frank also holds a Chair at the University of Edinburgh in Public Health Research and Policy.

His broad research and professional interests concern the determinants of population and individual health status, and especially the causes, remediation and prevention of socio- economic gradients in health. His scientific publications include 25 books, monographs and book chapters, 135 peer-reviewed journal articles, and 60 other scientific publications. He has been principle or co-investigator for $CDN14 million in direct research grants, and over $50 million in flow- through grants, in the last decade.

Why "PHIRN is important?

Public Health research has become much more sophisticated in recent decades. It can now be used to measure the frequency and severity, and assess the impact on the actual lives of patients, for hundreds of health conditions. It can be used to predict which persons will get certain common diseases (e.g. coronary heart disease -- "heart attacks") and how these persons will do after their illness strikes. And it can be used to robustly evaluate the health and other impacts -- positive and negative -- as well as the costs, of programmes and policies that aim to improve the health of the population, and reduce health inequalities. But the latter function is the one current research is the weakest on. Many important health challenges around the world have vanishingly small numbers of high-quality intervention studies demonstrating precisely the best policies and programmes to tackle them.

A good part of the reasons for this situation is that such intervention evaluations are very hard to design so as to pass scientific criticism of their quality. Another reason we have so little of such informative research for public health decision-makers, however, is much more amenable to a simple human-organizational strategy: the professional isolation of the academically based research community, and the "out in the field" policy, programme and practice communities -- so that they rarely contact each other, have conflicting incentives for performance and promotion over their careers, and completely separate governance structures and "work cultures."

Fortunately, Ontario has an organizational innovation to counter these long-established patterns of separation between the two communities in public health -- researchers and research-users. That innovation is PHIRN. By building relationships to bridge between these two professional silos, PHIRN can and does catalyze joint working that will lead, over time, to improved capacity to do, and to use, conclusive, high-quality public health intervention research.

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 20 March 2012 11:28 )