How addressing knowledge gaps in pharmacy and medicine can impact global health

Editor-in-Chief Zaheer Babar explains why a modern encyclopedia is essential and what it means for the global pharmacy community

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Dr. Zaheer-Ud-Din Babar understands the importance of filling the gaps in information. When he became Editor-in-Chief for Elsevier’s new reference work Encyclopedia of Pharmacy Practice and Clinical Pharmacy, he didn’t begin with the concept of a book so much as the need to address the crucial areas of pharmacy practice that had not been given the attention they deserved.

“People need guidance,” said Zaheer, Professor in Medicines and Healthcare in the Department of Pharmacy, School of Applied Sciences, at the University of Huddersfield, UK. “It’s not solely about the information they take away from a reference work like this but also the way that – by covering certain topics that haven’t been covered before or focussing on topics that have been underrepresented – we can highlight important areas that have been over-looked.”

Prof. Zaheer-Ud-Din Babar, PhDThat focus can have far reaching implications. Zaheer points to the content on the pharmacy workforce, and the role people in that workforce can play in addressing global health issues.

“There’s been a shift around the world in the way pharmacists contribute to healthcare,” Zaheer said. “These are people with fantastic skills and education, and excellent clinical skills, but they’re not used appropriately and consistently around the world both in developing countries and elsewhere. One of the things we provide with this work is a picture of a trend that is useful for stakeholders like the UN, the World Health Organization, and organizations at a national level. They’re already interested in this work, and they can use it to inform their policy direction and the other actions they take.”

Another example comes with the content about how funding, reimbursement and pharma pricing impacts healthcare.

“Even just looking at the health budget of the European Union, you see that 50 percent to 60 percent of the health budgets are spent buying new drugs for cancer. This is partly what we’re trying to address –access to high-cost medicine and what it means for people around the world, and it’s why organizations like the World Bank are interested in what we’re putting out there.”

Overall, the work has a vast reach, covering pharmacy practice research, pharmacovigilance, pharmacoeconomics, social and administrative pharmacy, public health pharmacy, pharmaceutical systems research, the future of pharmacy, and new interventional models of pharmaceutical care.

When it comes to identifying the information gaps in the market as well as the experts who could tackle them, tools like SciVal and Scopus have a role to play, using analytics to identify where people are not finding answers, as well as the people capable of providing them. However, Zaheer points out that these tools are there as support, and ultimately the decisions are made by the experts themselves.

“While there are instances where I found people using Scopus, it’s really a supporting element to your own networks. You get suggestions, but you make decisions on who you know can deliver, who is a good writer, whether it’s me identifying them or one of the section editors. Often it comes down to personal contacts and your own understanding of the gaps that need to be filled, and the people that can do that.”

In a world where information is instantly available and often served up piecemeal, Zaheer sees an important role for reference works. When researchers are searching for information, looking at research articles in isolation means that they can miss the bigger picture. Tools such as SciVal Topic Prominence in ScienceDirect use machine learning to identify contextual information from reference books, and reference works like the Encyclopedia of Pharmacy Practice and Clinical Pharmacy provide essential content for that process. Moreover, their very existence as a complete work demonstrates to researchers, policymakers and industry professionals how various topics are interlinked.

“Even just the contents list of an encyclopedia lets you know how topics relate to each other,” Zaheer explained. “Of course, we update information and parse it out in individual segments in the way that technology now allows, but one of the most important roles an encyclopedia plays is to provide a synthesis of the literature and to present it in a way that shows how a whole range of topics are interconnected. If you really want to understand a topic, you need to see the connectivity. That’s what the people who work on an encyclopedia provide.”

Working with those people is a highlight for Zaheer. Guiding that team of experts to the finished product was one of the most rewarding parts of the process.

“It’s been very satisfying,” he said. “I’ve provided support to many researchers, many of whom were writing for the first time, so for them it’s been a kind of wish fulfilment. When someone says to me, ‘You’ve given me great support and feedback,’ that’s immensely satisfying.”

However, Zaheer noted that it was important that the research community find ways to recognise the work that goes into creating a chapter of a reference work, ways that are both quantitive and qualitative.

You have download metrics, of course, and the citations that go back to the author, but what would be useful would be a way of capturing feedback that’s more qualitative. You want to be able to hear where something made a difference, where a piece of information influenced a policy decision or prompted someone to pursue a new line of inquiry. That’s something that would be valuable in improving the experience for the people that work on these books.

After all, reference works are all about people – if people don’t come together as a team, you don’t see anything.

About Zaheer-Ud-Din Babar

Dr. Zaheer-Ud-Din Babar (@ZUDBabar) is Professor in Medicines and Healthcare and the Director of the Centre of Pharmaceutical Policy and Practice Research at the University of Huddersfield, UK. He has worked as an academic in Pakistan, Malaysia, New Zealand and the UK and understands the health systems and pharmacy globally. He is known for his work in pharmaceutical policy and practice, including quality use of medicines, clinical pharmacy practice, access to medicines and issues related to pharmacoeconomics.

Dr. Babar has published in high impact journals such as The Lancet and PLOS Medicine and has acted as a consultant for the World Health Organization, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, Health Action International, International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease, World Bank, International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP) and Pharmaceutical Management Agency of New Zealand. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of Pharmacy Practice and Clinical Pharmacy (Elsevier 2019).

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