Health Information and Technology

Leading Health Research in a Digitalized World

Info TechAn improved Canadian healthcare system requires the development of creative and effective ways to contend with the increased burden associated with an aging population, the high prevalence of chronic disease, a strained healthcare work force, competing economic priorities, and evolving health information and technology. These challenges create opportunities to reimagine how we can provide Canadians with the right care, at the right time, in the right place. Within the next 20 years, it is anticipated that one quarter of Canadians will be over 65 years old. The pressure to develop more effective health care options will be enormous.

Toward that end, researchers within the Faculty of Health Sciences have been at the forefront of innovative research initiatives related to information that are transforming how health care is delivered and taken up in our community. There is a strong focus on the application of knowledge generated from the research in the Faculty. This encompasses understanding how effective interventions are being implemented in health settings, for example, or supporting the use of research and information in clinical and organizational decision-making for optimal outcomes. Many faculty members work closely and regularly with health policymakers to ensure that research findings are considered in the policy cycle. Some faculty are examining the social context of health information in organizations, or in consumer/caregiver settings. Other FHS researchers embed an integrated knowledge translation process, where they conduct research in partnership with knowledge users, into their research designs through the use of innovative data visualization techniques, e.g., body mapping or social network analysis, and other strategies. The graduate program in Health Information Sciences, jointly offered by the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty of Information and Media Studies further supports research in this domain.

The term, eHealth, describes the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) for health and is recognized as one of the most rapidly growing areas in health today. With funding from CIHR, NSERC, and the private sector, FHS researchers are examining innovative uses of various eHealth technologies and the implications of introducing ICT within diverse heath care settings. Investigators are examining the impact of ICT use on health professional education, health care practices, and health organizations; exploring technology enabled models of health care (public health, home care and community health). There are a range of ‘smart’ technologies, including the development of ‘apps’ and wearable technologies that have been used with individuals who are facing a multitude of health challenges, including the homeless and those with mental health concerns. These efforts include diverse populations across the life span, from our very youngest citizens to our most senior citizens. The Internet, the electronic health care record (EHR), the personal healthcare record (PHR), telehealth, robotic applications, virtual worlds and nanotechnology have and will continue to influence healthcare practice, practitioner roles and consumer-provider relationships. The availability of health information and health promotion interventions through the Internet, various ‘apps’, and other forms of health technology have dramatically transformed healthcare practices. These are evident with FHS researchers engaged in clinical simulation, driving simulation, the development and evaluation of assistive devices for speech, hearing, and mobility, and technologies for accessing health care among those who are homeless and facing mental health challenges and for older Canadians who want to remain in their homes and to ‘age in place’. The graduate program in Health Information Sciences, jointly offered by the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty of Information and Media Studies further supports research in this domain.

This area of scholarship is enhanced by researchers affiliated with the internationally recognized National Centre for Audiology (NCA). The NCA was founded through an Institutional Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) grant (July, 1999), supplemented with Ontario Innovation Trust (OIT) funding (March, 2000) and significant donations from the private sector, with the vision of becoming a national centre of excellence and leadership in research in Audiology and hearing science. The NCA received a second round of CFI funding in 2006 and a third in 2012, with individual researchers also receiving CFI support for laboratory development. Researchers at the NCA have also demonstrated considerable success with Tri-Council funding, primarily through NSERC and CIHR grants including a Canada Research Chair in Childhood Hearing, as well as Ontario Research Fund team operating support. More recently, the research capacity of the NCA was enhanced by the approval of a Western Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and two Canada Research Chairs in Brain Plasticity and Development and in Auditory Neuroscience/Binaural Hearing. The Research Centre facilitates research excellence and innovation by bringing together the necessary human and laboratory resources to form collaborative groups with existing excellent researchers forming the core. The NCA has long-lasting relationships with industry partners across the globe in both technology transfer (e.g., the award-winning DSL™ hearing aid prescription software) and collaborative research. Researchers and students at the Translational Research Unit (TRU) conduct arm’s length product evaluations of device efficacy and effectiveness. The research conducted at the NCA addresses directly the impact of novel technologies on our ability to optimize hearing health care from assessment through to intervention and outcome assessment. In addition to the contribution to the hearing science research excellence, the NCA and its Audiology program have established themselves as world leaders in the fields of hearing science, early intervention, rehabilitation, and biomedical engineering applications in hearing healthcare.