Americans think commitment to health research should be stronger

September 20, 2005

Most Americans rate medical research as a high national priority and strongly support greater public and private funding, according to an article in the September 21 issue of JAMA, a theme issue on medical research. However, recent opinion surveys indicate that Americans also are increasingly dissatisfied with the nation's health care system and think the national commitment to health-related research should be higher.

Lead author Mary Woolley, M.A., of Research!America, Alexandria, Va., presented the findings of the article today at a JAMA media briefing on medical research.

Elected and appointed officials representing the public continuously shape policy affecting the conduct of health-related research and health care in the U.S., according to background information in the article. These officials pay close attention to issues that concern the health of the public. Medical researchers and funders of health-related research should be well informed of the public's attitudes toward research.

Mary Woolley, M.A., and Stacie M. Propst, Ph.D., of Research!America, Alexandria, Va., summarized 10 years of data gathered from national and state opinion surveys on public attitudes and perceptions about health care and health-related research. Data in the article were drawn from 70 state surveys and 18 national surveys commissioned by Research!America from 1998 through 2005. Most of the surveys had a sample size of 800 or 1,000 adults (range, 800 - 5,377). Participants were selected at random and surveyed by telephone interview.

In a 2005 poll, Americans ranked health care (28 percent), education (22 percent), and jobs (20 percent) as the most important domestic issues. That same year, the majority of interviewees (78 percent) said it was very important that the U.S. maintain global leadership in health-related research. More than half (55 percent) of Americans want more spent on research, and, most importantly, they are willing to pay for it.

The majority (67 percent) of Americans said they are willing to pay $1 more per week in taxes for additional medical research, an increase from 2004, when 46 percent said were willing to pay more for health research. When asked what type of research was more valuable--research to prevent disease or research to cure disease--nearly half (48 percent) said prevention research was more valuable.

Other Survey Results:

"The understanding, support and engagement of the public are essential if the research enterprise is to continue to succeed. To ensure that success, stakeholders in research must commit to listening to the public and being responsive to their concerns. The concerns expressed by the public are to be expected in the conduct of research that seeks to chart the unknown. The research community should embrace every opportunity to engage the public in an effort to answer their questions and put a human face on research," the authors write. "The widespread public support for research and researchers is now, as it has long been, entirely consistent with public aspirations for better health and well-being, and for longer and more productive lives."

(JAMA. 2005; 294: 1380 - 1384. Available pre-embargo to media at

The JAMA Network Journals

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