Is Reporting on Interventions a Weak Link in Understanding How and Why They Work? A Preliminary Exploration Using Community Heart Health Exemplars
URL with Digital Object Identifier
Background: The persistent gap between research and practice compromises the impact of multi-level and multi-strategy community health interventions. Part of the problem is a limited understanding of how and why interventions produce change in population health outcomes. Systematic investigation of these intervention processes across studies requires sufficient reporting about interventions. Guided by a set of best processes related to the design, implementation, and evaluation of community health interventions, this article presents preliminary findings of intervention reporting in the published literature using community heart health exemplars as case examples. Methods: The process to assess intervention reporting involved three steps: selection of a sample of community health intervention studies and their publications; development of a data extraction tool; and data extraction from the publications. Publications from three well-resourced community heart health exemplars were included in the study: the North Karelia Project, the Minnesota Heart Health Program, and Heartbeat Wales. Results: Results are organized according to six themes that reflect best intervention processes: integrating theory, creating synergy, achieving adequate implementation, creating enabling structures and conditions, modifying interventions during implementation, and facilitating sustainability. In the publications for the three heart health programs, reporting on the intervention processes was variable across studies and across processes. Conclusion: Study findings suggest that limited reporting on intervention processes is a weak link in research on multiple intervention programs in community health. While it would be premature to generalize these results to other programs, important next steps will be to develop a standard tool to guide systematic reporting of multiple intervention programs, and to explore reasons for limited reporting on intervention processes. It is our contention that a shift to more inclusive reporting of intervention processes would help lead to a better understanding of successful or unsuccessful features of multi-strategy and multi-level interventions, and thereby improve the potential for effective practice and outcomes.