Driven by data, anchored in care

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In early May the Nova Scotia COVID-19 Research Coalition, which includes the IWK Health Centre and IWK Foundation, announced a collective investment of just over $1.5 million in COVID-19 focused research. As one of the 40 recipients of the funding, Dr. Janet Curran and her IWK team found the pandemic presented a unique opportunity. Not only could their research address future pandemic response but possibly the future of health care in the province itself.

“We can learn so much from this one event because it is affecting us all,” says Curran. “Not just if you have cancer, or you are having a baby, or you are a health care provider. This impacts us all. And it has brought us together to think about how we are providing service.”

Curran’s team is examining the IWK’s COVID-19 pandemic planning and preparedness through a Learning Health System lens. A Learning Health System takes scientific, social, technological, policy and ethical considerations and aligns them to create a system that is continuously learning and improving. While the system is driven by data and evidence it is anchored on the patient’s needs, perspective and aspirations.

“This is the true test of our ability to use data and evidence to inform what we do,” says Curran. “Ultimately it should mean that we are continuing to provide the best quality care to everyone who comes in to the IWK during the pandemic.”

The IWK Health Centre responded quickly to COVID-19 by making changes to the way care is delivered, including changes to policies and physical space, canceling non-essential surgeries, and moving staff to different areas of the health centre to meet the changing needs.

Researchers can evaluate those responses by looking at several sources of data, including health administrative data, interviews with staff and patients from the IWK, and pandemic planning documents. By dropping them into the Learning Health System framework they can identify what worked really well and where the gaps were.

“Implementation science is about studying behaviours, not only of individuals but of organizations,” says Curran. “It takes more than one person to move things forward.”

Researchers will collect data until the end of August 2020 in hopes of identifying promising strategies that have demonstrated value during the pandemic and should either be continued in the ‘new normal’ post-pandemic or rolled into a plan to combat future pandemics, including COVID-19 if it returns in fall 2020.