New funding helps research team create triage centres for back pain sufferers

Feb. 13, 2014

Greg Kawchuk, PhD, Leah Phillips, PhD, Linda Woodhouse, PhD
Greg Kawchuk, PhD, Leah Phillips, PhD, Linda Woodhouse, PhD

(Edmonton, Alberta)  February 13, 2014…Joan Matthews-White is a working mother who enjoyed sports and an active lifestyle. During a 2012 ski trip however, she took a tumble and injured her back. It changed her life. She began navigating the health system seeking treatment for her back pain. After nine months of debilitating pain, Joan was finally set for surgery for her protruding disc.  Many months after surgery, Joan continues her long road to recovery.

A newly funded research project intends to make Joan’s experience a thing of the past. The Bone and Joint Health Strategic Clinical Network’s (SCN) SpineAccess project will focus on early team triage to reduce back pain in most patients while improving access for those few patients who need specialist consultations and imaging.

“Early clinical triage is a proven solution that provides immediate care and education to the majority of those with back pain who do not require surgery, and it significantly improves the wait times for those who do,” says Linda Woodhouse, PhD, the Bone and Joint Health SCN Scientific Director and SpineAccess research project lead.

Drs. Woodhouse, Kawchuk, Phillips and their team at the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine will begin this journey by creating centres where multidisciplinary health care teams will assess and triage care for patients with back problems. These teams will help clear the health system of the back log of patients waiting for unnecessary procedures and help those who need to see specialists faster.

SpineAccess Alberta is one of ten projects funded through the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Health System (PRIHS), a Fund created by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS) and Alberta Health Services (AHS).

“Providing a patient-focused, quality health system that is accessible and sustainable for all Albertans is our primary goal,” says Fred Horne, Alberta’s Minister of Health. “Improving quality results from innovative approaches that improve processes and reduce costs and inefficiencies.”

“Alberta Health Services is delighted to partner with AIHS to ensure knowledge from research is a tool for changes that improve the health system,” says Dr. Kathryn Todd, VP for Research, Innovation and Analytics at AHS. “We anticipated high quality, relevant projects with action plans and we are very proud of the results.”

“The Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Health System (PRIHS) Fund demonstrates how innovation can come from within,” says Dr. Cy Frank, President and CEO of Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions. “These initial ten projects will demonstrate that we can improve patient outcomes by doing things differently and by using research evidence to drive change.”

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Background:

About the PRIHS’ funded SpineAccess Project:

The Bone and Joint Health Strategic Clinical Network’s (SCN) SpineAccess project wants to get the right care to the right patients at the right time.

Back pain is the world’s #1 musculoskeletal disability. More than 85% of adults will experience back pain during their lives and typically it resolves within weeks without imaging or surgery.  However many fear that their back pain falls into the 10% of cases that require specialist attention and/or imaging. Unfortunately, the system sometimes enables those fears by requesting inappropriate consultations and imaging. The result is some back pain becomes more difficult to treat over time while wait times to see a specialist and surgery can be as long as two and a half to four years—a significant back log and bottleneck for back care in Alberta according to Linda Woodhouse, PhD, the Bone and Joint Health SCN Scientific Director and SpineAccess research project lead.

Thanks to PRIHS funding, Dr. Woodhouse and her team will create and evaluate a new model of back pain triage centres where patients can be referred by primary care clinicians. Multidisciplinary teams at these centres will assess, triage and treat patients with back problems. These teams will help clear the health system of back logs of patients waiting for unnecessary consultations and it will help the 10% who do need a specialist, see them faster. The Bone and Joint Health Strategic Clinical Network’s (SCN) SpineAccess project wants to improve access to specialists for Albertans whose back pain requires surgery.

Other projects are funded to:

  1. Determine what is causing intensive care unit strain in Alberta and apply findings to improve delivery in the ICU and reduce wait times and improve care.
  2. Develop a model of care for seniors in surgery units who need extra care to improve their outcomes.
  3. Develop a clinical care pathway (a plan for best care for a medical condition) through the creation of a provincial rectal cancer school for clinicians to reduce reoccurrence and save lives.
  4. Improve the prevention, treatment, and management of cardiac and stroke patients by integrating programs and services for patients and caregivers.
  5. Move existing evidence into practice to develop standard approaches to imaging in emergency departments to improve diagnoses, reduce radiation load, and reduce costs.
  6. Assess current before and after surgery practices to reduce complications, reduce patients’ hospital stays, improve patient outcomes, and reduce costs.
  7. Assess hospital stays for severely obese patients (who have twice the length of stay of non-obese patients) to identify where equipment, protocols, and care can be improved to improve outcomes and reduce costs.
  8. Evaluate a model of centralized intake province-wide for osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis patients in Alberta (approximately 400,000). Integrating services and clinician collaboration to offer timely and appropriate interventions that result in a reduction of suffering and improving the lives of patients.
  9. Develop a multidisciplinary team of health care providers to put research evidence into practice around care for critically ill patients in intensive care to reduce unnecessary and expensive tests and treatments, improve patient outcomes and experience, and create value for money.

 About the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Health System (PRIHS) Fund:

PRIHS was established by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions and Alberta Health Services in 2012 and these projects are the result of the first competition offered under the Fund in 2013.

Each grant is a three year opportunity valued at $750,000.

PRIHS supports networks of health researchers and clinical practitioners across the continuum of care, with an emphasis on population health and community and primary care. The networks assess potentially inefficient activities within the health system and identify sustainable solutions to improve overall quality of care and value for money in the health system.

The first PRIHS competition was open only to provincial Strategic Clinical Networks, teams of research and clinical experts within the health system who identify problems for research and ensure research evidence is used in the system.

The PRIHS-funded SCN projects look at technologies, services and processes in the health system that can be improved resulting in better patient outcomes and costs savings. The research evidence from the projects can help AHS make necessary improvements. With a focus on research as a driver of innovation, one of the goals of PRIHS is to create a culture of research expertise and uptake in the health system, which supports AHS’s commitment to quality. PRIHS also encourages collaborations between the SCNs and provincial universities to improve the health system. 

About the Strategic Clinical Networks (SCNs)

To get the most out of our health care system, Alberta Health Services (AHS) has created  networks of people who are passionate and knowledgeable about specific areas of health,  challenging them to find new and innovative ways of delivering care to provide better  quality, better outcomes and better value for every Albertan.

SCNs are made up of patients and their families, health care professionals, researchers and academic partners, community groups and government

SCNs are reshaping health care by:

  • Focusing on what patients need
  • Supporting local examples of good care, and then sharing  them across the province
  • Using scientific evidence to guide care decisions 

There are four main goals:

  • Improve patient experience
  • Arm Albertans with the skills and tools to stay healthy
  • Provide the best health care for generations to come
  • Ensure value from every health care dollar spent

Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions supports research and innovation activities to improve the health and wellbeing of Albertans and create health related social and economic benefits for Albertans. AIHS provides leadership for Alberta’s health research and innovation enterprise by directing, coordinating, reviewing, funding and supporting research and innovation. For more information see: www.aihealthsolutions.ca.

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