How having a Biostatistician can help you at every stage of your research
High-quality biomedical research seeks to provide answers to clinically and experimentally relevant questions. The ultimate goal is to help improve science, techniques and methods, in order to provide ever-better patient care. But just how can a researcher obtain those answers and contribute to improved outcomes for patients? To get the best out of their research, researchers need to engage a biostatistician in their research design. However, a biostatistician can also be of great help during the remaining stages of your research.
Role and responsibility of a biostatistician in research
Statistics is the practice or science of collecting and analysing numerical data in large quantities, especially for the purpose of inferring proportions in a whole based on those in a representative sample.
A biostatistician can be described as a person participating in the planning and execution of a study, in the dissemination of the results and in statistical refereeing.
The role of the biostatistician encompasses the following aspects, all of which are essential to obtain high-quality research:
- Valid statistical planning of studies
- Analysing the data gathered
- Reporting the results
Need and role of biostatisticians during research planning
The goal of good study design is to build a research protocol and plan that will lead to the most valid and credible conclusions. Including a biostatistician’s guidance in the planning phase will go a long way in ensuring your study is properly conducted and will yield what you seek. Sadly, many studies (which are otherwise beautifully conducted) are rejected because, from the outset, they are incorrectly designed from a biostatistical point of view.
Before the study even begins, biostatisticians should be involved with the lead researchers to develop the following:
- Clear descriptions of the hypotheses/research questions being asked
- A design for the study that involves data collection protocols and procedures adequate and appropriate for answering its research questions and hypotheses
- Description and selection of the study participants
- The specific procedures and processes which will be used to obtain the data
- Measurement of the data ultimately collected
Note: Excellent statistical design is especially important for executing multi-centre studies, or meta-analyses.
Biostatisticians contribute highly specific statistical input to the planning phase, including the following:
- Determine the necessary sample size for data collection which will sufficiently answer the hypotheses/research questions.
- Identify variables and determine ways to control/account for them.
- Identify potential biases or confounding factors that may influence the study, and develop statistical methods to minimise or overcome bias.
- Determine how to obtain the highest scale of measurement possible for the study.
- In advance, determine the necessary statistical tools and calculations which will be needed to analyse the data, so that the researchers will obtain valid answers to their hypotheses.
Role of biostatisticians during the study phase
The biostatistician is instrumental during several points during the study to help ensure the statistical integrity of the project. Main tasks as the study is ongoing involve biostatistical monitoring and performing intermediate analyses, as needed. If such analyses indicate a necessity for modifications to the study design, the biostatistician will notify the researchers, and together they will adjust the study as required.
Role of biostatistician during the post-data acquisition phase
- Once all data is gathered, the biostatistician applies the pre-identified statistical methods on the data.
- When data has been subjected to the statistical analysis, the biostatistician then helps the researcher interpret the findings.
Role of biostatistician in the post-submission phase
The role of the biostatistician is not finished once the paper is submitted to a journal for review.
- Review panels may request explanation of statistical tests used or ask for additional tests upon the submitted data.
- When a paper is accepted and published, a biostatistician may be required to explain the significance of complex data to the public.
As research becomes increasingly evidence-based and dependent upon large, complex databases, the behind-the-scenes work by biostatisticians is invaluable. Including a biostatistician in your research will help you design, conduct, evaluate and publish high-quality research studies.
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