Many students often feel a chasm between textbooks that describe research methods in a general sense and textbooks that describe statistical procedures. There is often a disconnect between the statistical concepts and skills we in healthcare aim to learn about and the contexts in which we plan to apply those concepts and skills. Our intention in producing this textbook is to facilitate a bridge that will span the chasm between generalized research design textbooks and the statistical and computational methods textbooks.
When learning about applied statistics, our motivations are different than for those who aim to become analysts or statisticians. Healthcare providers, and students who aim to work in the field of healthcare, most often learn about statistics with a goal of evidence-based practice in mind. The clinical practice and the well-being of patients and families are at the heart of our motivation to learn how to analyze data. A perfect time to gain an understanding of and facility with statistics is when you have data that are deeply meaningful to your professional interests and goals. This is because the heart of the matter is not the formula or the software coding language. Those are only important as tools to reach your goal of better understanding a patient population or important health system issue.
When the numbers you are faced with are tied to concepts such as patient data, you can use your professional expertise to think in a nuanced way about how, for example, the treatment might influence a given outcome, but only if you also account for patient demographic variables such as compliance to the treatment and previous surgeries. You are no longer just mapping analysis to a grid of abstract numbers. You are thinking about and using your expertise to identify patterns, relationships, differences, and probabilities that make sense clinically and that can inform your practice.
This goal of evidence-based practice requires building a skill set that involves data and statistical literacy, and in many cases becoming part of a research team and doing our own studies and evaluations of applied practices. It is empowering to be able to utilize the institutional data we have available to us to better understand what is happening at an aggregate level. As clinicians and healthcare staff, we have a great deal of expertise that has been accumulated because of our experience through interaction with specific cases, some of which represent the standard and some of which represent the exceptional. This professional expertise, that is developed over time, is one important source of evidence in our work. We become prepared with greater insight and understanding of the complexity of our workplaces when we can complement that clinical expertise with evidence that comes from our research and evaluation efforts.