Breaking down silos

It’s been pretty cool. That’s how Dr. Dean Fergusson describes the Ottawa Method Centre’s (OMC) efforts at breaking down internal barriers to embed patient engagement in research at the Ottawa Hospital.

Scientific Lead at OSSU and scientist at the OMC, an OSSU research centre, Dr. Fergusson has led the charge to change the culture, moving from a few research “silos” to weaving patient engagement into all aspects of the hospital’s work.

The initiative began about 4 years ago but has really gelled in the last year or so.

“What we’ve done here is a work-in-progress but in the last year to 18 months, the Office for Patient Engagement in Research Activities (OPERA) under the direction of Dr. Stuart Nicholls has really matured,” he says.

His group created the “Ottawa Model” for patient engagement in research which coincided with the provincial mandate several years ago that hospitals must have patient and family advisory committees (PFACS). While PFACS deal with patient experience, hospital satisfaction and other issues, his team added a bucket of research to the list. They built infrastructure to use the patient panels and advisory groups to help with research as these committees find, onboard and match patients for hospital and clinical work. This approach ensures integration across the hospital while efficiently leveraging patient volunteers.

“Our idea was to create a research foci through this infrastructure with OPERA as a conduit to these panels,” says Dr. Nicholls.

“It’s worked really, really well as they do the heavy lifting of attracting, finding, matching and vetting patients, then we get them up to speed about research, how it’s done, expectations, and other aspects,” says Dr. Dean Fergusson.  

“We built that infrastructure and now at the institutional level we are identifying studies going to REBs that have identified the involvement of patient partners so we can now help those projects and research teams with their patient engagement.”

And the team can quantify its success, with about 100 research projects ranging from basic to clinical research that have engaged patients through OPERA. Projects include assessing the impact of COVID-19 on women’s health, engaging patients in clinical trials, engaging patients in surgical safety in the operating room as well as COVID-19 projects and more.

Building a question into the electronic patient record, MyChart, about whether patients want to be involved in research ensures a steady flow of volunteers; in the first few months, more than 500 patients expressed interest.

“This is absolutely necessary infrastructure if we’re going to make a difference. Moving beyond silos of individual researchers that engage patient partners to organization-wide initiatives which then catalyzes a culture change towards patient-oriented research is key,” he says.

The benefits extend beyond Ottawa as the centre’s approach can be a model for other hospitals.

“Academic and community hospitals can use relevant aspects of the model. Our hope is this can be scalable to other parts of the province and beyond.”