Innovations in knowledge transfer
Canadian Nurse asked nurse leaders Maureen Dobbins and Véronique Boscart to discuss their current roles in research into aging and seniors care and the innovative ways evidence is getting into the hands of care providers and the public
McMaster Optimal Aging Portal
Maureen Dobbins, RN, PhD, is scientific director, National Collaborating Centre for Methods and Tools and a professor in the school of nursing at McMaster University. She is one of the leads on the McMaster Optimal Aging Portal.
Launched in October 2014, the portal provides direct access to evidence-based information for citizens, informal caregivers, clinicians, public health professionals and policy-makers. The portal brings together information from three best-in-class databases housed at McMaster: McMaster Plus, Health Evidence and Health Systems Evidence, which address clinical, public health and health systems questions, respectively.
What’s unique about what the portal offers?
How do you educate yourself about a condition when someone in your family has just received a new diagnosis? Citizens and informal caregivers have been frustrated with how hard it is to navigate the health-care system. As well, they aren’t finding quality information on aging and health written for a general audience.
The portal is the only one-stop shop of its kind in the world, bringing together the best available evidence on seniors and aging and presenting it in a format that’s user-friendly and accessible.
The topics are identified by a national advisory group made up of health-care professionals, clinicians/researchers and academics, all with expertise in aging. The writing and presentation style differs for each of the portal’s four content categories:
- Evidence summaries of 300 to 600 words, written for a general audience but still fairly high level
- Blog posts prepared from content in the evidence summaries and written for a lay audience
- Web resource ratings: We compile health resources that are freely available online and use a methodology we developed to assess them, looking at the extent to which research evidence informed the resource, whether the resource is easy to view and use online, and whether the content is transparent in terms of who developed it, when and how. We assign a “star” rating, ranging from one to five stars, with five being the top rating a resource can achieve.
- Twitter: We conduct daily searches for aging and health stories appearing in media headlines and then identify the best available research evidence on those topics in our databases. We send out tweets with links to that evidence.
How are you measuring success?
We’re looking at several ways to do this, including tracking the number of people who become registered users of the portal, what they are searching for, how many are signing up for updates, and the number of Twitter followers. We’re also trying to determine if access to the information is influencing decision-making at the caregiver and patient level. Real patient engagement —having people identify content and become portal champions — is our goal.
How are you creating awareness of the portal?
Initially, we sent out announcements of the launch to newspapers, national associations and the federal government, and we had great pick up. We’re seeking partnerships with various seniors organizations and other groups and establishing a second advisory group made up of seniors and informal caregivers.
How is the portal funded?
The portal is one of the programs of the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative. Suzanne Labarge (now the university’s chancellor) donated $10 million to the university in 2012 to fund the initiative.
Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging
Véronique Boscart, RN, MScN, M.Ed., PhD, is the CIHR/Schlegel Industrial Research Chair in Seniors Care for Colleges at Conestoga College, Kitchener, Ont. She also continues to work as a gerontological nurse in an emergency department and in a long-term care environment.
Schlegel-University of Waterloo Research Institute for Aging (RIA) brings together researchers from the University of Waterloo and Conestoga College, including Boscart and four other research chairs and five program directors, with participation from Schlegel long-term care and retirement villages. The villages are living research environments and classrooms where innovations are developed, tested and then shared. By its very design, RIA integrates research into application. Conestoga College is the training and education partner.
What are the gaps in knowledge transfer we have to address?
The evidence and the best practices in caring for older people are there but aren’t always being used. There’s a lack of knowledge about evidence-informed care for seniors, particularly in acute care, where there’s definitely more neglect and ageism compared to primary or residential care environments. I see corners being cut in ways that would never happen if that senior was a child needing care.
We also need to focus on innovative education strategies. Gerontology is considered an uncomplicated area of care. Some nurses think that if they can take care of adults, they can take care of older adults. Not true. Students and new grads don’t always learn how complex the care for seniors can be and how important it is to fully understand what is happening to their patients. Some undergraduate nursing programs in Canada don’t have any gerontology content! There’s a need for more faculty who can get students excited about gerontology and for more nurses who are passionate about this field.
But I have seen a lot of positive changes in the last few years, too. New technologies for education, such as simulation and standardized patients, have brought a new dimension to experiential learning. Increasingly, students are showing interest in working with older people when they graduate. Employers are recognizing the importance of gerontological nurses. The jobs are out there.
What are the benefits of this partnership model?
This approach is what attracted me to the job. It’s not just about doing the research; it’s about addressing the gaps and developing capacity in the practice environment and in the future workforce. Care for older people needs to get better, and this approach can actually change practice.
When our research chairs develop a proposal, they involve LTC and primary care teams and seniors and their families in the initial discussions along with Conestoga College faculty who are teaching nursing and PSW students. In the work we’re doing with LTC residents with heart failure or functional decline, we are training a core team of LTC staff in best practices and teamwork, so they can train others, using interactive education materials we developed as a group. College faculty are then using these materials to teach students in the PSW and nursing programs.
Bringing together seniors, families, students, clinicians and educators leads to unlimited opportunities for exchanging and nurturing knowledge and experiences. Together, we are transforming the culture of aging.