Health services research

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Health services research focuses on the appropriateness, accessibility, cost and quality of healthcare. It might, for example, focus on understanding why people in rural and remote locations are unable to access cancer screening or how people can manage chronic conditions such as diabetes while having cancer treatment. This type of research aims to understand and overcome barriers to accessing high-quality healthcare. Its goal is to make sure care is as accessible, safe, efficient, affordable and cost-effective as possible for all people, no matter who they are or where they live.


Everyone deserves to get the care they need, when they need it. But having access to care relies on many factors such as the geographic location of services, knowledge of the healthcare system and the ability to take time off to visit a doctor. Beyond this, people need a healthcare professional they trust and can communicate with.

Those living in rural and remote communities may not have the time, money or transport needed to travel long distances for high–quality medical care. Meanwhile, those who have previously experienced discrimination in the healthcare system might be less likely to seek care when they need it. Indigenous peoples in Canada, for example, tend to have more difficulty accessing healthcare services than non–Indigenous Canadians. This is also true in cancer care, with Indigenous peoples facing particular barriers to accessing cancer screening.

Health services research aims to overcome barriers like these. How can we make sure that hard-to-reach populations get care?


As Canada's population increases, and grows older, the amount we spend on healthcare infrastructure, staff and medicine continues to rise. Plus, new technologies and treatments, such as precision medicines, are expensive.

Much of this cost is covered by governments and other public sector organizations, with the remainder paid by private health insurers, patients and families.

Health services research aims to reduce waste and make care as cost-effective as possible. That could mean coordinating care to reduce unnecessary healthcare visits and administration costs, or helping spot and prevent health emergencies before they occur.


Health services researchers study the quality of care to ensure all people are offered the best and most appropriate care to improve their health. Quality care means care that is:

  • safe and minimizes harm
  • effective and based on scientific knowledge
  • patient–centered and respectful of individual patient preferences, needs and values
  • timely
  • efficient
  • equitable – not varying because of personal characteristics such as gender, ethnicity, race, geographic location and socioeconomic status

Health services research might aim to improve care guidelines, find ways to reduce errors or figure out how to provide more timely care. It also involves listening to people who use the healthcare system to understand what is important to them and helping healthcare professionals provide care that is appropriate and respects a person's cultural identity.

Patient engagement in health services research

Patients are experts in the health services they use. The diverse perspectives of service users, whether people with cancer or caregivers, can provide unique insight into how services impact health and well-being, what health outcomes are most important and the barriers that can prevent people from finding and accessing care.

Increasingly, patients and caregivers are included in health services research as meaningful and active collaborators. They help researchers ask the right questions, plan and carry out research and share the findings to improve healthcare policy and practice.

Medical disclaimer

The information that the Canadian Cancer Society provides does not replace your relationship with your doctor. The information is for your general use, so be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional before making medical decisions or if you have questions about your health.

We do our best to make sure that the information we provide is accurate and reliable but cannot guarantee that it is error-free or complete.

The Canadian Cancer Society is not responsible for the quality of the information or services provided by other organizations and mentioned on, nor do we endorse any service, product, treatment or therapy.

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