In many ways, we are living in a golden age of medicine. At New Scientist, we regularly report on breakthroughs and innovations that enable us to subdue previously untreatable conditions, rethink our understanding of diseases and roll out new life-saving medicines faster than we ever thought possible.
Yet even in these thrilling times, the fact remains that many people worldwide – including those living in the wealthiest nations – receive medical care that can be up to 17 years out of date. The reasons for this are as varied as they are voluminous, stretching from the way research is conducted in the first place to the not small challenge of getting human beings, let alone institutions and whole societies, to change their habits.
In recent years, though, a new field has emerged specifically dedicated to closing the yawning gap between what we know and what we do in medicine and healthcare. It pulls together expertise from doctors, behavioural scientists, policymakers and many others who have placed themselves into what some are calling “a new lane for science”.
That new lane goes by the name of implementation science. Its practitioners certainly have their work cut out for them, but they are starting to make some meaningful progress: already they have slashed the number of patients hospitalised for mental health crises, updated practices for reducing antibiotic resistance in hospitals and improved HIV prevention measures.