​What is Implementation Science?

Understanding the field of implementation science starts with a story:

James Lind, from a set of "Moments in medicine" or some such produced by an American pharmaceutical company in the 1950s

In 1497, sailors were dying from scurvy. In one British expedition during the 18th century​, 1300 of the original 2000​ men died from the illness. As early as the the 1600s, it was common knowledge that eating lemons could prevent scurvy. Then, in 1747, a clinical trial led by James Lind, a surgeon's mate in the British Royal Navy proved that eating lemons prevented scurvy. ​Despite this, it took 42 years to implement eating lemons into British ​​Navy policy!

"Implementation science is the 'application and integration of research evidence in to practice and policy.'" (Glasgow, Eckstein, and ElZarrad, 2013)

​Today we know:

  • ​​​It takes 17 years on average from when scientific findings are published to when they are implemented into practice.

  • Only 14% of research reaches a patient.

  • Only 18% of administrators or practitioners report using evidence-based practices frequently.

Implementation science encourages us to ask: 

​Is there a clear description of what is being implemented (for example, details of the practice, programme or policy)?

Does this involve an implementation strategy? If so, is it described and examined in its fullness?

Is the research conducted in a “real world” setting? If so, is the context and sample population described in sufficient detail?

Does this project appropriately consider implementation outcome variables?

Does the research appropriately consider context and other factors that influence implementation?

Does the research appropriately consider changes over time and the level of complexity and the level of complexity of the system, including unintended consequences?

(Adapted from Peters, BMJ, 2013)