Dec. 18, 2023

Researcher recognized internationally for contributions to patient-oriented research

Maria Santana pioneered the use of patient-reported outcomes and experience measures in transplant community
A woman with dark hair and glasses smiles at the camera in a dark suit jacket and whie blouse
Dr. Maria Santana recently received the prestigious 2023 President’s Award from the International Society of Quality of Life Research

For nearly 20 years, Dr. Maria Santana, PhD, has been working on improving patient care and experiences.  

Santana’s former work as a pharmacist inspired her passion to research and advocate for patient-centered care, which takes a holistic approach to health care.

“As a pharmacist, I spoke to a lot of patients, heard their frustrations and fears, and wanted to do something about it,” says Santana. “Finding and filling the gaps in care is critical in improving patient outcomes.”

Santana is the patient engagement lead for Alberta Strategy for Patient Oriented Research SUPPORT Unit (AbSPORU), a group dedicated to transforming health outcomes in Alberta. She is a popular international lecturer and has informed policy at the federal level. Her peers and mentors have also recognized her achievements.

Santana recently received the prestigious 2023 President’s Award from the International Society of Quality of Life Research. The award honours people who have advanced health-related quality of life research and made outstanding contributions in education, scholarly activities or furthering policy initiatives.

Santana is humbled to be recognized.

“I am at a loss for words,” says Santana. “It’s an honour to be included in the prestigious group of researchers who have been past recipients of this award.”

Santana started her PhD in 2005 at the University of Alberta. During her studies, she pioneered the use of patient reported outcomes and experience measures (PROMS) in heart and lung transplant patients, organizing a clinical trial to report on the impact of using PROMS in this population.

Patients were asked to complete questionnaires at several different stages of their health-care journey. The results were shared with their physicians, sparking improved communication and outcomes and forming a database that exists today.

“What I learned is that PROMS can be used to identify gaps in treatment, facilitate referrals to other specialities, provide resources, encourage conversations between patients and health-care providers, to inform the patients’ care plan, and, ultimately, to change the culture of health care and improve patient outcomes.”

After her PhD, Santana went on to further studies at the University of Calgary, completing a postdoctoral fellowship under the supervision of Dr. William Ghali, MD.

Santana is now an associate professor and directs the Cumming School of Medicine’s Person-centred Care Research Team.

In her role, she leads a research group that is focused on improving patient-centred care, a model that encourages health-care providers to partner with patients and families to co-design and deliver individualized personalized care that considers all aspects of an individual’s well-being.

Santana’s research projects have a large patient engagement component. Not only is her research sparked by patient priorities, but she engages with patient partners throughout the research cycle, ensuring people with lived experience are considered and included.  

An example of this work is a recent project that identified priorities of patients with cardiovascular health concerns by engaging clinicians, researchers, patients and their families and others.

“This has been important, because once we finished this project several researchers used the priorities we identified to inform their research,” says Santana, noting this makes the research more meaningful and potentially more effective for patient care.

In another project, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Santana’s team developed 26 person-centred quality indicators. The project was developed with input from Albertans and their communities and other groups across the country, including representatives from the B.C. Ministry of Health and the Canadian Institute for Health Information—to help measure person-centred care in health care.

Working closely with partners at both the provincial and national level, work is underway to implement these indicators into primary care.

“My career has been about finding and filling the gaps that I first learned about during my clinical practice as a pharmacist,” she says. “As researchers and health-care providers, it’s important to talk to patients, learn their priorities and keep them at the center of care.”

Dr. Hude Quan, MD, PhD, who directs the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre in Classification, Terminology and Standards at CSM, has worked closely with Santana for a decade.  

He says not only is her research crucial for guiding patient centre care evaluation and research, but she is always willing to support others in their work.

“Whenever patient engagement and representatives are needed, Maria is always the first person to ask for help,” says Quan. “I love working with her and she has been a caring, kind co-worker. I owe her a lot.”

Dr. Maria Santana, PhD, is an associate professor in the departments of Pediatrics and Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine. She is a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

Dr. Hude Quan, MD, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine (CSM). He is the director the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre in Classification, Terminology and Standards at CSM and holds the Astra-Zeneca and Chiu Family Chair in Cardiovascular Health Promotion and Disease Prevention. He is a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.  

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