Our patient-oriented research journey

In its patient-oriented research journey, the Ontario SPOR SUPPORT Unit (OSSU) is focused on four pillars to support a strong foundation for patient-partnered health research: Building a Learning Health System, Data Platforms and Services, Capacity-Building and Patient Partnership. Read on for updates on this work.

A strong learning health system

Building a learning health system is essential for a nimble healthcare system and healthy Ontarians. Over the last two years, the McMaster Health Forum, an OSSU research centre led by Dr. John Lavis, has played an important role in helping Ontario, and the country, deal with the pandemic. Its work has reinforced the importance of a learning health system, in which the system can pivot in the face of changing health needs and adapt based on emerging research and patient insights. The pandemic has underscored the vital role of evidence to address a range of pressing health and social issues.

“Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve never before seen so much interest – from political leaders of many political persuasions and in diverse countries – in drawing on evidence to inform their response,” said John Lavis, Director of the McMaster Health Forum and co-lead of the secretariat for The Global Commission on Evidence to Address Societal Challenges. “This is an incredible opportunity to dramatically up our game in supporting political leaders to use evidence to address societal challenges at a global, national and local level.”

But it’s not just all pandemic, all the time. Additional activities include:

  • The McMaster Health Forum team is supporting Ontario Health Teams (OHTs) to meet requirements for the province’s Rapid-Improvement Support and Exchange (RISE) funding.
  • International collaboration with the Global Commission on Evidence to address societal challenges not just in Ontario but globally. The Commission’s recent report calls for “decisive action by multiple stakeholders to ensure evidence is consistently used to address societal challenges.” 
  • Supporting chronic disease networks with evidence through COVID-END on how the pandemic and restrictions have affected risk factors for chronic diseases, such as substance use, nutrition, physical activity and more.)
  • Collaborating with Health System Performance Network’s (HSPN), INSPIRE Primary Care and other groups.

Citizen partnership, a more inclusive term than patient, has been a key element in this work, especially around the impacts of COVID-19.

Data platforms

Accurate data and the ability to access this information is essential for researchers in Ontario and other parts of the country to anticipate and adapt to health care challenges. Building on a solid foundation, ICES will continue to expand the Data Analytics Service to support Ontario Health Teams, community members and other groups requesting data, which have increased during the pandemic. A major focus over the last 2 years has been to provide COVID-19 related analytics to enable the health system to pivot and respond to emerging needs. As we move into an endemic phase with the virus, the data platforms group will deliver against future requests for COVID-19 data while supporting requests for all types of information.

Capacity building for patient engagement

Capacity building for patient engagement helps ensure the future of this research by instilling knowledge in the next generation of researchers. In 2021, a priority-setting event attended by more than 60 people, from patients and early researchers to senior leaders and policy-makers was a highlight of the Capacity Building Working Group’s activities. A common theme was how essential it is to ensure equity, diversity and inclusion in patient-engagement in research, and the need for equal partnerships to address power imbalances.

In 2022, the Capacity Building Working Group will explore recommendations from the meeting, such as equity, diversity and inclusion, addressing barriers to participation in patient engagement in research and building researcher and patient partner capacity in how to engage.

OSSU and McMaster Health Forum will offer four new virtual Masterclass sessions on Evidence Products and Processes (EP2) that Support Rapid Learning and Improvement. The 11-week masterclass has been designed to help teams develop innovative evidence products and use innovative processes to drive changes in a health system. Find out more here.

Expanding the patient pool

Collaboration and integration were common threads in OSSU’s Patient Partner Working Group’s (PPWG) 2021 activities. From co-designing and co-hosting the fall priority-setting event with Dr. Moira Stewart to ensuring patient partnership is integrated into the AMS awards, the working group was busy. Led by Chair Maureen Smith and Vice-Chair Lucie Langford, they laid the foundation for webinars and courses on patient partnership to be offered in 2022.

Expanding the diversity of the Patient Partnership Working Group to better reflect the province’s diverse population will be a focus in 2022. From geographic, linguistic, ethnocultural, gender and educational backgrounds, the working group hopes to recruit new faces to provide varied perspectives and patient experiences. A particular focus is building equity, diversity and inclusion into patient partnerships throughout the OSSU network and the province.

To expand patient partnerships, the Working Group will create new outreach approaches and connections and ensure that patient partners are represented in the Data Platform, Capacity and Training, Learning Health Systems and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Working Groups.