The Maritime SPOR SUPPORT Unit (MSSU) was established in 2013 as part of the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR) Strategy for Patient Oriented Research (SPOR). The MSSU aims to support patient-oriented health research that is applicable to policy/practice by engaging healthcare decision-makers, healthcare professionals and Patient Partners from across the three Maritime provinces.
In 2018, the Nova Scotia (NS) Site of the MSSU established the “Bridge process” to foster collaborative research teams between researchers and knowledge-users and to produce research that addresses priority-health issues in NS. The Bridge process takes an integrated knowledge translation (iKT) approach by engaging knowledge-users across all stages of the research process.
The Bridge process includes four main stages:
Stage 1: Identify priority health topics: The MSSU collaborates with the two provincial health authorities (Nova Scotia Health and the IWK Health) and the NS Department of Health and Wellness to identify priority health topics. The topics are then focused into questions, defined and prioritized. The approach to solicit priority health topics was guided by the Contextualized Health Research Synthesis Program, developed by the Newfoundland and Labrador Centre for Applied Health Research.
Stage 2: Engage stakeholders to refine priority health topics: Researchers, healthcare decision-makers, healthcare professionals and Patient Partners with interest and expertise in priority topic areas attend a half-day event to discuss and further refine the topics into research questions, through facilitated group discussions.
Stage 3: Facilitate groups to undertake priority projects: Research questions aligning with priority health topics are identified for further exploration, based on the needs of decision-makers and expertise brought by researchers and Patient Partners. The MSSU supports the development of research projects around the priority research questions.
Stage 4: Priority project application and support: If a project is identified, collaborative research teams can apply for MSSU Priority Project Support, thereby providing access to in-kind project management, coordination and research supports.
The full Bridge process has been implemented four times since June 2018. In total, 304 participants have attended the events including representatives from government (n = 33), health authorities (n = 103), patient/community (n = 36), research/university (n = 116) and other organizations (n = 16). Twenty-five priority topics have been discussed at the events and eight collaborative research teams have received MSSU Priority Project Support. Projects successful in receiving MSSU Priority Project Support include research projects on e-mental health, primary healthcare, osteoarthritis, and pharmacist prescribing.
The event provides other beneficial opportunities for stakeholders to network and build relationships. Based on our event evaluation survey, an average of 88% of participants across the four events reported they “Strongly Agreed/Agreed” that they have engaged with researchers, healthcare providers, decision-makers, and/or patients/citizens they would not have otherwise met.
The Bridge process has served as a promising model for building collaborations across stakeholder groups and integrating the use of evidence into policy/practice. Next stages include adapting this process to be effective through a virtual platform due to COVID-19 restrictions and evaluating the impact of priority projects on informing policy/practice.