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Commentary: The Relative Research Unit: Providing Incentives for Clinician Participation in Research Activities

Embi, Peter J. MD, MS; Tsevat, Joel MD, MPH

Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31823a8d99

Recent nationwide initiatives to accelerate clinical and translational research, including comparative effectiveness research, will increasingly require clinician participation in research-related activities at the point-of-care, activities such as participant recruitment for clinical research studies and systematic data collection. A key element to the success of such initiatives that has not yet been adequately addressed is how to provide incentives to clinicians for the time and effort that such participation will require. Models to calculate the value of clinical care services are commonly used to compensate clinicians, and similar models have been proposed to calculate and compensate researchers' efforts. However, to the authors' knowledge, no such model has been proposed for calculating the value of research-related activities performed by noninvestigator–clinicians, be they in academic or community settings. In this commentary, the authors propose a new model for doing just that. They describe how such a relative research unit model could be used to provide both direct and indirect incentives for clinician participation in research activities. Direct incentives could include financial compensation, and indirect incentives could include credit toward promotion and tenure and toward the maintenance of specialty board certification. The authors discuss the principles behind this relative research unit approach as well as ethical, funding, and other considerations to fully developing and deploying such a model, across academic environments first and then more broadly across the health care community.

Author Information

Dr. Embi is associate professor of biomedical informatics and internal medicine, vice chair of biomedical informatics, and chief research information officer, The Ohio State University Medical Center, Columbus, Ohio.

Dr. Tsevat is professor of medicine and associate dean for clinical and translational research, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and director of health services research and development, Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Embi, 3190 Graves Hall, 333 W. 10th Ave., Columbus, OH 43210; telephone: (614) 292-4778; fax: (614) 688-6600; e-mail:

© 2012 Association of American Medical Colleges