By Dr. Devin Harris
Executive Medical Director, Quality and Patient Safety, Interior Health
In the past, health research was considered only to occur in large academic centers. Further, medical research was primarily focused on medication trials or intervention trials, like testing types of surgery. We now know that research needs to be much broader in scope and embedded in care to improve overall health. So, we have moved upstream, away from an acute-care and event-focused health care and research agenda, to shift to early diagnosis, early treatment, and prevention and management of chronic diseases.
Health research has broadened – knowing the significant impact that socioeconomic, demographic, cultural, psychological, environmental, and behavioural aspects have on an individual’s health and health care experience. The priority in health research is shifting to favour health services research or implementation science research. In other words, this means focusing on research questions with potential outcomes that have a direct impact on the quality and effectiveness of health services and can be put into practice immediately.
Today, the most important perspective is what matters to patients and families. We’ve asked them what drives them most, as research questions or as outcomes, and what matters to them concerning results – from medications or surgeries or quality of life. Most importantly to the patients and families that call the southern interior home, we must answer questions that other sites and centers, like Vancouver, don’t prioritize. We grapple with added challenges of geography, winter roads, and remote cities and towns. All patients deserve worldclass care. What innovations will make this possible? How might these solutions be applicable in other health regions with similar challenges? Rural and remote health services research is a priority. We are ideally situated here in Kelowna to investigate this.
The pandemic has illuminated other priorities, like accelerating research into virtual care. We are asking questions such as, ‘What kind of education in selfmanagement and virtual care will help keep patients in the comfort of their own homes to treat their chronic conditions? Can monitoring of vital signs, such as heart rate and oxygen saturation, be supported at home through technology? Could virtual platforms promote better access and equity of specialist care, especially for rural and remote areas?”
When every moment matters, can ambulance-delivered experimental medication for acute stroke be given immediately by paramedics, reducing the impact of stroke and effectively saving lives? Could the use of virtual reality improve mood and activity in post-stroke rehabilitation patients?
The priorities for health research and the need for rapid innovation and change within the health care system have never been more evident. Our population is aging, and Kelowna (and Interior Health) is older than the rest of the province – answering questions about chronic disease management, frailty, and end-of-life care are being prioritized.
The answers to these questions represent the future of care in our region. More than ever, the research agenda is driven in partnership with patients and families. The most pressing research questions come from those who have experienced care, who see the gaps and opportunities, and have the passion for being a champion of change through research.
Research needs experts – those with the training and experience – but research needs our community, as partners and as part of our team. Kelowna General Hospital has the potential to be internationally renowned and continue to attract the best and brightest.
Together, if we dream big, the work being done at KGH and in the southern interior of B.C. can inform other jurisdictions nationally and internationally.
Unlocking the answers to some of the biggest questions we face in health care today isn’t a matter of how.
It’s only a matter of when.