Opinion Editorial: Meeting a Pressing Need

 

The majority of patients who require health care in the Maritime provinces receive the care they need. However, the complex scenario of an aging population and rising health care costs are leading to growing concern about the ability of to retain a high performance health care system. Even today, pressing issues in the delivery of health services abound: underuse, overuse, and misuse of diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, unpredictable and long waiting times, fragmented care, and unanswered questions about the value of society’s investment in healthcare.

Led by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Strategy for Patient Oriented Research (SPOR) is a coalition of federal, provincial, territorial, and other partners established to focus on these issues. Funded as part of the SPOR initiative, the Maritime Strategy for Patient Oriented Research Unit (Maritime SPOR Support Unit, MSSU) is dedicated to integrating research into health care. Our mission is to lead the development and application of patient-centered outcomes research in the region and with a vision of enhancing the health and well-being of individuals and populations in the Maritimes. Since May 2013, the MSSU has taken shape with the active participation of the governments of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, health authorities in all three provinces, the Nova Scotia and New Brunswick Health Research Foundations, at least five universities, patient groups, and other concerned citizens.

There are inevitable trade-offs between quality, access, and value of health care, with one dimension of this iron triangle emphasized at the cost of another. The MSSU is helping shed light on those trade-offs by engaging patients and eliciting their values and priorities at all stages of research, including defining health research questions, participating in study teams, interpreting results, and eventually, helping design improvements.

A major focus of the MSSU is integrating Maritime health care data and streamlining ethical and secure access to the data. While health data are already being used to inform health care policy and decision-making at the provincial level in all three provinces, the MSSU seeks to develop a regional approach to research using these data for informing policy and decisions. For example, MSSU researchers are examining patterns of service utilization for patients undergoing complex heart and joint replacement surgery within Nova Scotia as well as those who travel to a neighbouring province. It is our hope that the outcomes of this project will improve the service and experience of patients awaiting these crucial procedures.

In addition to hosting research, the MSSU provides consulting expertise in key areas related to patient-centered outcomes research, including: knowledge translation, evidence synthesis, ethics and data confidentiality, and patient engagement. We also offer a special focus on training a new generation of health researchers and those supporting the field. 

Never has the need been greater for evidence informed decision and policy-making. This MSSU fosters Maritime-wide cooperation in patient centered outcomes research, which, in turn, offers the best hope for addressing the pressing challenges facing the health care system.

Adrian Levy is the Nominated Principal Investigator of the Maritime SPOR SUPPORT Unit, Professor and Head of the Department of Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University, and District Chief in the Nova Scotia Health Authority.

Ted McDonald is the New Brunswick Principal Investigator of the Maritime SPOR SUPPORT Unit, Professor of Economics at the University of New Brunswick, and Director of the New Brunswick Institute for Research, Data and Training.

Juergen Krause is the Prince Edward Island Principal Investigator of the Maritime SPOR SUPPORT Unit, Professor and Dean of the School of Business, and the Director of the Centre for Health and Biotech Management Research at the University of Prince Edward Island.

David Anderson is Chair of the Nova Scotia MSSU provincial advisory committee, a professor and former Head of the Department of Medicine at Dalhousie University, District Chief in the Nova Scotia Health Authority, and will become Dean of the Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine on July 1, 2015. David was instrumental in the establishment of the Maritime SPOR Support Unit.