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A labour of love

Dr. Seth Chitayat is the Industry Liaison Officer for the Faculty of Health Sciences. Dr. Chitayat, a biochemist, received his PhD from Queen’s in Protein Structure and Function. He then pursued an MBA, and now works for FHS promoting and facilitating our Industry Engagement Strategy. He has kindly agreed to be a guest blogger for Dean On Campus. Seth writes:

The Queen’s School of Medicine Strategic Plan identifies “Partnerships” as one of our four major pillars. Partnerships not only help to extend the value of our research and catalyze our educational initiatives, but they are becoming increasingly important in order to secure grants from many funders of health research such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). I thought of sharing a recent example of how our emphasis on partnership development has helped us to navigate the shifting sands at CIHR in the funding of a major health research initiative that is led out of the Faculty of Health Sciences.

Dr. Richard Birtwhistle is a prominent family physician and the original thought-leader behind the Canadian Primary Care Sentinel Surveillance Network (CPCSSN;, the only pan-Canadian database with over one million patient electronic medical records (EMRs). He is a true visionary who secured a large-scale grant by the Public Health Agency of Canada to transform the manner in which electronic medical records are used in primary care. Over the last seven years, CPCSSN has created eight validated case definitions that allow physicians to identify and study cohorts of patients with one or more chronic disease conditions. In our conversations, Dr. Birtwhistle emphasized that physicians tend not to think about using electronic medical records as a research tool for quality improvement and surveillance of chronic disease in our country. CPCSSN bridges this gap by extracting data from over 12 EMR vendors, such as Telus, and has designed a data presentation tool to enable primary care physicians to search and fully realize the utility of the data they collect.

In order to maintain the national essence of the data, Dr. Birtwhistle and his network colleagues applied to CIHR to become a Strategy for Patient Oriented Research Network (SPOR) in Chronic Disease, focused on multi-morbidity. Briefly, this funding program falls under the umbrella of Canada’s larger strategy to improve patient outcomes by supporting transformative research. It provides 25 million dollars over five years, but requires applicants to secure 12.5 million dollars worth of non-federal matching funds to realize any financial commitment from CIHR. Given this initiative was driven by Queen’s, I was really excited about the prospect of helping Dr. Birtwhistle to secure the funds required.

I think we can all agree that 12.5 million dollars is a very significant amount of money to secure for research. In spite of CPCSSN’s accomplishments and numerous awards, it is clear that without a cogent partnership plan, we would have not been able to support this application. For the last few months, Erin Baier, Bill Leacy, Deborah Brown, and I all pulled together to help support Dr. Birtwhistle in raising the funds required. We made over a dozen trips to Toronto and Montreal and made arrangements to present to about 20 different audiences. I am happy to report that we are very close to our goal and we would not be where we are today if it was not for efforts made by the team. I would like to express my appreciation to them in supporting this very unique and innovative initiative. I don’t imagine this type of partnership requirement for the funding of health research initiatives is going away in the foreseeable future, and as such I am so pleased that we have capacity and focus to respond.

If you would like to learn more about CPCSSN, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Richard Birtwhistle, Chair of the network and Director, Center for Studies in Primary Care. His door will be open after the full application is submitted on October 15th!

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