Health research in Hamilton – improving lives, today
By: Katie Porter, Director of Research Administration, Hamilton Health Sciences
“And what do you do at Hamilton Health Sciences?” the woman at the Juravinski Cancer Centre asked politely, pointing at my ID badge. I launched into my usual response – I’m a health care administrator, I support the research mandate at HHS, etc., while she nodded. I pointed to a poster recruiting patients for a clinical trial and said, “There’s an example of a research study my team supports.”
“Clinical trials!” she exclaimed. “I’m alive right now because of a medication I’m receiving in a clinical trial. Thank you.”
I walked away feeling even more proud of my mission at Hamilton Health Sciences, but also wondering how we – those who work in and support health research – can do a better job of communicating the direct and personal impact that research has on our patients and their families.
Too often, we view research as something that happens behind closed doors in laboratories, or as something that takes decades to improve patients’ lives.
This perception needs to change. Research is not only about unlocking new possibilities for tomorrow’s patients; it is also about improving the health of our patients today, helping them live longer, healthier lives.
Changing lives, today
Examples of this abound across our organization. Hamilton Health Sciences has more than 2000 research studies happening at any one time at our various sites and centres. Right here and now, we’re tackling real-life, close-to-home Hamilton issues that are having a positive effect on our patients, families and our community.
Our researchers are improving health care for patients and families facing life-threatening illness. We’re helping our local patients with heart failure have a safer transition to home. We’re joining forces with our community to raise awareness of intimate partner violence and the recognition of associated injuries, and we’re working with our aging population to prevent, and even reverse, clinical frailty. And, because we know that Hamilton has some unique needs in terms of population health, our “Making the Race Fair” study is engaging families in Hamilton’s highest-needs communities to help prevent child and adolescent behavior problems, supporting our city’s vision to help make Hamilton the best place to raise a child.
Too often, we view research as something that happens behind closed doors in laboratories, or as something that takes decades to improve patients’ lives. This perception needs to change.
And while we know that not every research study results in a better outcome for an individual patient, there are other benefits, including a better understanding of their condition, and finally, the satisfaction of making valuable contributions to medical research that may help others down the road.
For those of us who work in research, these benefits are clear. They’re why we do what we do. We know research makes a difference in people’s lives. But how do we shift the common perception that research is only for the future? How do we help our friends, our family members and our neighbours understand that we have world-class research happening right here in our own backyard, and that that research is affecting health outcomes right here, right now?
Making research relatable
Those of us who work in health research must do a better job of de-mystifying research activity and clearly explaining its value in a way that patients can engage with and respond to. We need to establish research as a joint venture between patients, researchers and the community. We must have regular conversations with our patients about research and the fundamental role it plays in the delivery of their own treatment, and remind them that best care evolves out of research and education.
In Hamilton, research is in our community’s blood – its growth and impact as a key industry in our city is undeniable, and only increasing.
Finally, we must continue to conduct research inspired by the needs of our patients, our health professionals and our community. With this approach, we can make discoveries that improve patient care and quality of life – not just for generations of the future, but also for those of us who are here today.
In Hamilton, research is in our community’s blood – its growth and impact as a key industry in our city is undeniable, and only increasing. We have one of Canada’s most research-intensive communities in our own backyard. Last year alone, Hamilton Health Sciences conducted research valued at over $150 million dollars. We’re on track to exceed this amount in 2016.
The story I shared earlier isn’t a rare case. Research is changing our communities every day, for the better, but it often flies under the radar.
There’s so much more of this story to tell.
To learn more about how health research is contributing to a healthier, wealthier and smarter Ontario, visit healthierwealthiersmarter.ca.