Emerging Trends in Clinical Research With Implications for Population Health and Health Policy

Original Scholarship

Policy Points:

  • Significant advances in clinical medicine that have broader societal relevance may be less accessible to population health researchers and policymakers because of increased specialization within fields.
  • We describe important recent clinical advances and discuss their broader societal impact. These advances include more expansive strategies for disease prevention, the rise of precision medicine, applications of human microbiome research, and new and highly successful treatments for hepatitis C infection.
  • These recent developments in clinical research raise important issues surrounding health care costs and equitable resource allocation that necessitate an ongoing dialogue among the fields of clinical medicine, population health, and health policy.

Context: Developments in clinical medicine have important implications for population health, and there is a need for interdisciplinary engagement among clinical medicine, the social sciences, and public health research. The aim of this article is to help bridge the divide between these fields by exploring major recent advances in clinical medicine that have important implications for population health.

Methods: We reviewed the most cited articles published from 2010 to 2015 in 5 high-impact clinical journals and selected 5 randomized controlled trials and 2 related clinical practice guidelines that are broadly relevant to population health and policy.

Findings: We discuss the following themes: (1) expanding indications for drug therapy and the inherent medicalization of the population as highlighted by studies and clinical guidelines supporting lower blood pressure targets or widespread statin use; (2) the tension in nutritional research between quantifying the impact of isolated nutrients and studying specific foods and dietary patterns, for example, the role of the Mediterranean diet in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease; (3) the issue of high medication costs and the challenge of providing equitable access raised by the development of new and effective treatments for hepatitis C infection; (4) emerging clinical applications of research on the human microbiome as illustrated by fecal transplant to treat Clostridium difficile infections; and (5) the promise and limitations of precision medicine as demonstrated by the rise of novel targeted therapies in oncology.

Conclusions: These developments in clinical science hold promise for improving individual and population health and raise important questions about resource allocation, the role of prevention, and health disparities.

Keywords: clinical trials, social sciences, public health, health equity, drug costs.

Read on Wiley Online Library

Volume 96, Issue 2 (pages 369-401)
DOI: 10.1111/1468-0009.12328
Published in 2018