Four UCalgary postdocs have been awarded fellowships to tackle the pressing real-world challenges of treating chronic disease, mental health and critical illness in Alberta.
The Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) Health System Impact (HSI) Fellowship program provides postdoctoral researchers a unique opportunity to work within health organizations and pursue research that supports evidence-informed decision-making and health equity.
The fellowships were awarded to Dr. Adrijana D'Silva, BSc'11, PhD'22; Dr. Faizan Khan, PhD; Dr. Kimberly Manalili, PhD'22 — all postdocs in the Cumming School of Medicine — and Dr. Erin McCabe, PhD, a postdoc in The School of Public Policy.
The scholars will be embedded in Alberta Health Services (AHS) units to train and conduct research, working closely with health-care providers and patients. Alberta’s integrated health-care system offers scholars access to data, opportunities to apply knowledge in real-time and support to create tangible impacts for the benefit of patients.
“I’m pleased to congratulate our four new CIHR HSI Postdoc Fellows. This program is an exciting, impact-oriented opportunity for our postdocs to develop professional skills and advance their research,” says Dr. William Ghali, vice-president (research). “We are grateful to AHS for their vital role in making the fellowships possible. Our postdocs’ collaborative research projects will help identify evidence-based ways we can improve both patient outcomes and our health-care system.”
“Alberta Health Services is very pleased to welcome these dynamic researchers to the organization,” says Dr. Mark Anselmo, Calgary Zone medical director, AHS. “Postdocs bring a unique perspective to health-care delivery, investigating challenges through an objective lens that often leads to system improvements and efficiencies – which ultimately translates to enhanced patient care.”
Self-management for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Dr. D’Silva is working to develop, evaluate and implement a self-management support model to improve the lifestyle management of IBS across primary care in Alberta.
Lived experience led D’Silva to this research. “I have learned through my experience, and other individuals living with IBS, what is missing in our care and what works best for most,” she says. “We are often left to our own devices to self-manage a condition without a cure, leaving us in the dark without proper medical support.”
Research has shown that diet, exercise and mind-body therapies are some of the best ways to manage IBS. D’Silva will be carrying out qualitative studies to ask patients, support persons and health-care providers how to best integrate self-management support for IBS in primary care.
“Typically, in academia, there is a long lag between when we publish results to when we see changes in a health-care system — leaving patients, who are the centre of our work, to miss out on important discoveries that could change their life and outcomes for the better,” she says. “Being imbedded in the health-care systems allows researchers like myself to apply my knowledge directly in real time.”
Improving care for patients transitioning from the intensive care unit
Dr. Khan will partner with critically ill patients and their family caregivers to create a “transitions in care bundle” to ease the transition from the ICU to the next phase of their health-care journey.
“In our health-care system, the discharge of critically ill patients from the ICU is among the most challenging and high-risk transitions in care,” says Khan. He will be using data from the provincial eCritical system, which is used in ICUs across Alberta, to evaluate patient and health-system outcomes and help inform the creation of the care bundle.
The bundle will be a collection of evidence-based, patient- and family-centred tools to improve health outcomes, reduce health-care utilization, and increase patient and family satisfaction with care during transitions from the ICU.
“I am excited to collaborate with/engage patients (i.e., ICU survivors) and their family caregivers to help inform priorities for research and advance patient- and family-centred critical care,” Khan says.
Data-sharing and co-ordination of care to prevent chronic disease
Dr. Kimberly Manalili will collaborate with health-system partners and patients to co-design data-sharing and co-ordination of care between hospitals and primary-care providers to support patients who face barriers in receiving follow-up care in the community.
“Data sharing between different sectors of care for chronic disease-prevention has been a challenge within the Alberta health-care system, particularly between acute care or outpatient settings and primary care,” says Manalili.
The complexity of the health-care environment requires she use a collaborative approach to ensure the perspectives of key health-system partners are incorporated in developing these processes. “I will be working with other researchers, the implementation team at AHS, data specialists, health-care providers and patients, all with a common goal of implementing initiatives that address health equity and improve patient care and health,” she says.
“By obtaining a greater understanding of the policies, processes and overall landscape of the health-care system, I will have the opportunity to further develop my knowledge and skills, as well as my potential impact as an applied health researcher.”
Measuring outcomes for children, youth and their families in mental health services
Dr. McCabe is helping to integrate a set of patient-reported outcome measures at The Summit: Marian & Jim Sinneave Centre for Youth Resilience, a new child and youth mental health centre opening later this spring in Calgary. Her project will shape Alberta’s youth mental health services by including patients' voices in decision-making about adapting and expanding services to meet the evolving needs of youth.
McCabe’s postdoc research stems from her career as a physiotherapist. “Working within Alberta’s health-care system, I noticed that there was room for improvement in the way we evaluate the services we provided,” she says.
“This prompted me to do my PhD focusing on health measurement from the patient’s perspective. I gained valuable research knowledge and skills through my PhD, and now this postdoc in partnership with AHS gives me the chance to apply those research skills to a real-world research problem.”
Her research will address the growing demand for child and youth mental health services in Alberta. “I’m most excited about contributing to a change in Alberta’s health-care system towards a value-based health-care approach, where patients’ perspectives on the quality of health services are central to assessments of health services.”