A St. Michael's Hospital scientist will lead a Canada-wide alliance that answers health-care research questions submitted by policy makers, doctors and other clinicians, but also patients.
The pan-Canadian alliance received $5-million in funding from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, as a Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research grant. The alliance is also supported by an additional $11-million in cash or in-kind support from partners who have funded queries or committed researchers' time to helping answer some questions.
"Any Canadian will be able to ask questions related to health care," said Dr. Andrea Tricco, who is a scientist with the hospital's Knowledge Translation Program of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute and lead on the CIHR grant. "Our vision is to strengthen the Canadian health-care system, by making sure everyone has the right information at the right time to make the best possible health-care decision."
Questions will be submitted in English or French through an online form that Dr. Tricco hopes will be online by early 2018. Alliance members will work with the users who've asked questions to refine the query, making sure it's a health research question and determining whether there is enough scientific evidence to make the question "answerable."
"Having enough scientific evidence out there is critical to being able to deliver answers to our users," said Dr. Tricco, who has a PhD in population health and MSc in epidemiology.
Using a process called knowledge synthesis, researchers can combine information from large numbers of research studies. They aren't conducting the primary studies, they're looking at what research has already been conducted.
"We analyze this body of work in a way that helps governments, policy-makers, physicians, patients and others make evidence-based decisions around health care," said Dr. Tricco, who is also an associate professor with the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health. "We also help with clinical practice guidelines, developing research that is patient-oriented, and using knowledge translation methods to transfer evidence from research into clinical and policy settings."
Dr. Tricco has proven experience in delivering such research reviews. She is frequently commissioned by the federal and provincial governments, in Canada and elsewhere, to provide evidence to inform decision making.
Her team recently helped the CIHR create modules to make peer reviewers aware of gender bias and to promote gender equity when reviewing grant applications. They helped the World Health Organization and the South African government implement policies to prevent bankrupting the country's health-care system. Their work on the benefits of insulin for people with Type 1 diabetes is being used by the WHO essential medicines guidelines group to help make recommendations on the use of these drugs internationally.
"We are confident that our alliance will improve patient care, inform policy and practice, strengthen our healthcare system, and increase efficiency by answering at least 100 questions during this five-year grant," said Dr. Tricco.
The alliance is comprised of 175 members from all regions of Canada and beyond, including patients, health-care providers, policy-makers, and teams of researchers studying a range of health conditions and topics, using a variety of methods, including knowledge synthesis, clinical practice guidelines, knowledge translation, and patient-oriented research.