What is research?

Research is designed and conducted to generate new generalisable or transferable knowledge

It includes both quantitative and qualitative studies that aim to generate new hypotheses as well as studies that aim to test existing or new hypotheses.

What's not research?

It is not ...

Service evaluation is designed and conducted solely to define or assess current care.  

It addresses the question "what standard does this service achieve?"

It assesses choices of treatment, care or services that are currently available according to guidance, professional standards and/or patient/service user preference.

Examples include:

  • evaluations performed to assess current care of a patient
  • evaluations of the standard of care a service achieves
  • evalutions aimed at deterimining or chosing appropriate treatment or service options.

Clinical audit is designed to answer the question: "does this service reach a predetermined standard?"

It measures the delivery of an intervention against a standard.  It only assesses choices of treatment, care or services that are currently available according to guidance, professional standards and/or patient/service user preference.

Examples include:

  • evalutations designed to inform best service or care delivery
  • evalutions of whether or not a care or service meets required standards
  • evaluations relating to current treatments or interventions.

Usual practice addresses questions such as: “what are the health issues in this population and how do we address them?” or “what is the cause of this disease outbreak or incident and how do we manage it?”

Usual practice may involve systematic, quantitative or qualitative methods.  however, it assess choices of intervention, treatment, care or services based on best public health evidence or professional consensus.

It may involve analysis of existing routine data or administration of interview or questionnaire to those in the population of interest.  it may involve a review of existing evidence.

Examples include:

  • investigations designed to determine the cause of an outbreak of disease
  • investigations designed to assess population health issues.

What is health research?

„Health research is defined in the Health Research Regulations 2018 as:

  • research with the goal of understanding normal and abnormal functioning, at the molecular, cellular, organ system and whole body levels
  • „research that is specifically concerned with innovative strategies, devices, products or services for the diagnosis, treatment or prevention of human disease or injury
  • „research with the goal of improving the diagnosis and treatment (including the rehabilitation and palliation) of human disease and injury and of improving the health and quality of life of individuals
  • „research with the goal of improving the efficiency and effectiveness of health professionals and the health care system
  • „research with the goal of improving the health of the population as a whole or any part of the population through a better understanding of the ways in which social, cultural, environmental, occupational and economic factors determine health status

It is a broad definition. 

It includes:  

  • „experimental, translational and clinical research
  • „public health and social care research
  • „population health research
  • includes basic and translational health research
  • „research into treatment strategies, medical device or product development
  • „It also includes any actions taken to establish whether an individual may be suitable for inclusion in the research

Is my project research, evaluation or audit?

The NHS's Health Research Authority in conjunction with the UK's Medical Research Council have developed a useful decision making tool to help you decide if your activity is a research project, clinical audit, evaluation study or usual practice.

You can find this decision-making tool on their webages by clicking on the following weblink: http://www.hra-decisiontools.org.uk/research/index.html

Where is "health research" defined in the Health Research Regulations 2018?

Health Research Regulations 2018, Regulation 3(2)


This guidance has been prepared by the HRB to help researchers in the health domain comply with GDPR requirements.

It is intended to be general guidance for educational and informational purposes only.

It is not legal advice.