22nd Cochrane Colloquium: A chance to influence trajectory of healthcare?

Photo credit: colloquium.cochrane.org
Dr Prathap Tharyan, CNS Columnist
(first published on the blog: Evidence-informed musings)
With less than a week to go before the close of early registration (July 31st, 2014) and the beginning of regular registration (till September 1st, 2014), we are busy putting the finishing touches in our preparations to host the largest and most important business and scientific meeting that the world will see this year of people and organizations involved in producing, maintaining and disseminating credible evidence to inform health decisions. This gathering has the potential to affect the lives of millions of people living in the region and globally.

The Cochrane Collaboration will celebrate its 21st Anniversary as the world leader in providing credible evidence to inform health decisions at the 22nd Cochrane Colloquium that will be held at the Hyderabad International Convention Centre (HICC) from the 21st to 26th September, 2014. Pre-Colloquium workshops and symposia will be held on the 20th and 21st and post-Colloquium workshops on the 27th and 28th September at the HICC and other venues in Hyderabad City. The theme of the Colloquium, 'Evidence-Informed Public Health: Opportunities and Challenges' provides participants of the Colloquium a platform to discuss ways in which Cochrane evidence, and Cochrane methods that have evolved, and been refined, over the past two decades, can contribute to improving public health globally and regionally; given the context-specific challenges faced by health systems and organizations involved in delivering public health and developing public health policies, particularly in resource-constrained settings.

Photo Credit: colloquium.cochrane.org
Why is this Colloquium particularly important to health decision-making in the region and globally?Importance to the region
The Hyderabad Cochrane Colloquium marks the first time that a Cochrane Colloquium is being held in South Asia. Cochrane Colloquia differ from the usual scientific medical conferences that are held in the region. These medical conferences usually involve people from single disciplines, such as renal medicine or diabetes, and focus on recent advances within these disciplines. Though undoubtedly of value to those within these disciplines, they differ from the scope of Cochrane Colloquia that are of relevance to a wide range of people from different disciplines involved in ensuring that the evidence for the effects of health-interventions across disciplines, or of the accuracy of diagnostic tests or procedures used in all areas of health care, are underpinned by robust methods, and hence can be trusted to provide benefits of relevance to those using them.

Driven by collaborative efforts involving some of the best methods experts and researchers working in different areas of healthcare, the scientific sessions at the Hyderabad Colloquium will help equip participants with the knowledge and skills to evaluate whether the recent advances and established interventions in their disciplines are actually worth investing in, and the extent to which they will deliver the benefits reported in primary research studies. The scientific sessions and skills-building workshops at the Colloquium will include topics relevant to research design, locating evidence, research synthesis, dissemination of research evidence, and using research evidence to frame policy options. They will involve clinicians from medical, surgical, nursing, dental and allied health fields; clinical and laboratory researchers; health administrators; health policy makers; health economists; statisticians; public-health specialists; health-related national, regional and international organizations;  health technology experts; the media, information and communication specialists; health care consumers, their care givers, and their advocates; and members of the lay public interested in health issues. All this will occur without any funding from the drug or device industry, and hence ensure that Cochrane evidence is not influenced by those with a vested interest in the interventions or diagnostic tests being evaluated.

The Hyderabad Colloquium will therefore provide considerable opportunities to influence the trajectory of health care and health decisions in the South Asian and wider Asian region by providing an alternative ‘evidence-informed’ model to the pre-dominant ‘profit-based’ or ‘opinion-based’ models of health care prevalent in many parts of the region. Such a gathering of people and organizations committed to using the best-available evidence to inform health decisions and health policy has the potential to inspire people in the region, particularly younger health professionals, who are dissatisfied with current models of health care and health decision-making, or who are unsure about how to make any changes to existing systems, or who are at that stage in their professional careers where local and global partnerships with individuals and organizations involved in these endeavours can influence the direction of their professional lives. Building such epistemic communities, with their own spheres of influence on health decisions, has an immense potential to influence how people in the region view evidence and the role that reliable and relevant evidence can play in improving health outcomes. This is undoubtedly one of the important benefits we expect from holding this Colloquium at Hyderabad.

Importance to global health
The greater participation of people from the region at the Hyderabad Colloquium will also provide Cochrane with unique opportunities to learn from participants about the contextual issues that impact on evidence-informed health decisions, particularly those affecting public health. This region is home to a large part of the world’s population, and is marked by considerable diversity in access to, and the delivery of health care. Innovative ways of dealing with such diversities can also help inform health decisions elsewhere. This will provide Cochrane with opportunities and challenges as it builds on the success of its global endeavour over the past two decades and plans for the future.

What can a newcomer expect from attending this Colloquium?
Anyone who attends a Cochrane Colloquium can be assured about one thing. You will never be same again. Cochrane Colloquia provide opportunities to meet with and be inspired by some of the world’s leading experts in research synthesis and in promoting the dissemination and uptake of research; and you will see health decision-making in an entirely new light. The interactions and the opportunities for collaboration offered by attending a Cochrane Colloquium are unparalleled.

You can attend pre-Colloquium and post-Colloquium sessions focussed on using health technology more effectively in producing and disseminating research evidence, learn about critical appraisal and peer-review, hear about the work of Evidence-Aid that was an outcome of a massive regional disaster-the Asian tsunami of 2004, and that now provides an platform to provide relevant evidence to those involved in humanitarian relief after disasters; get involved in an exciting partnership between Cochrane and Wikipedia; learn about the methods of research synthesis in public health, and attend a two-day primer on health economics. There are also full day workshops on the methods of research synthesis of diagnostic test accuracy and on grading the evidence. Many of these are free for those registered for the full Colloquium.

During the Colloquium, we will have five themed plenary sessions with three to five plenary speakers per plenary who represent a range of experiences and expertise from around the region and the world; and a special plenary dedicated to the 2nd Annual Cochrane Lecture that will be delivered by Professor Gordon Guyatt from McMaster University, Canada, who coined the term Evidence-Based Medicine.  Oral presentations (around 80+) will be held concurrently in the forenoon, after the plenary sessions. There will also be six themed specialsessions during the forenoon, concurrent with oral sessions. Over 80 skills-building or information-sharing workshops will be held concurrently in the afternoons. Over 200 attended poster sessions will be held during the morning breaks and over lunch. Meetings of Cochrane Groups will be held before and after the scientific sessions and during breaks. The topics covered in these various scientific sessions and workshops provide an eclectic mix of topics traditionally covered in Cochrane Colloquia as well as newer topics that address the challenges Cochrane faces in making review production more efficient, and the products more accessible to, and in formats required by those who need this evidence. There will also be sessions devoted to improving the evidence-base in complementary and alternative medicines including Ayurveda. We will also have a special session for newcomers to Cochrane and to Cochrane Colloquia to welcome you and connect you to relevant people with whom you can partner with in the years to come.

What does Hyderabad have to offer participants at the Colloquium?
Apart from the scientific content at the Colloquium, Hyderabad is an ancient city that offers visitors the best of modern conveniences as well as glimpses of its 400-year old past. Visitors to Hyderabad can be assured of a well-connected city, comfortable and safe accommodation, delectable local and international cuisine, a temperate climate, a dazzling array of shopping options, a welcoming population and enduring friendships. Hyderabad is an ideal destination for first-time visitors to India, and a great launching pad to visit other destinations in India and the region. Participants registered for the Colloquium will be offered free tours of some of the iconic places in the city, as well as optional customized tours that will give you a specialexperience of the city and its culture.  The glittering welcome reception will feature exceptionally talented artistes bringing you the best of the drums and dances of India and we also offer you the opportunity to become a Bollywood star in our Cochrane-BollywoodDance-off that will be highlight of the BollywoodNight-Gala Dinner. We will be happy to help you with any enquires and to facilitate your travel; e-mail us at: colloquium@cochrane.org.

Register now and be part of history
Participating in the 2014 Cochrane Colloquium at Hyderabad as a delegate, exhibitor,or sponsor offers you opportunities far in excess of that offered by attending scientific conference. You will be participating in history as Cochrane celebrates the generosity of its contributors and all those who have worked collaboratively over the past 20 years to improve the health of millions of people world-wide through the use of credible evidence; and as Cochrane prepares to face even more challenges at Hyderabad in September in understanding the challenges of providing evidence to improve public health, particularly in under-resourced settings, and in attempting to seize the opportunities offered by collaboration in influencing health globally and regionally.

Can you think of anything better to do this year?

Dr Prathap Tharyan, Citizen News Service - CNS
29 July 2014
(Author is the Director of South Asian Cochrane Network and Centre (SASIANCC), Christian Medical College (CMC), Vellore)

(first published on the blog: Evidence-informed musings)