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Meet the Researcher: Rebecca Ganann

Nov 16, 2017
Guylaine Spencer

Rebecca Ganann 

Our health care system needs to change to meet new needs.  One challenge facing it is how to best support a growing older population to live well in their own communities for as long as possible. Who should have a say in these changes, and how do we best engage them? These are some of the questions that nursing professor Rebecca Ganann raises in her research.

Newly appointed Assistant Professor Rebecca Ganann is working on research relating to community-based health care of older adults (65+) living with two or more chronic conditions. These could be heart disease, diabetes, mental health concerns, stroke, lung conditions, and/or dementia.  

“My interest in particular is engaging patients and their caregivers in research teams,” says Ganann. “How do we best partner with them to understand their perspectives, to learn from their lived experiences?”

“We want to do research that has a potential to make a real-world impact,” says Ganann.

One of her current projects deals with providing more support for older adults who are making the transition from the hospital to the home. That could be their own home, someone else’s home, or a seniors’ residence. “We’re partnering with older adults and their caregivers to make sure that these supports will make meaningful differences to them,” Ganann says.

Patients have had input right from the start. “We engage them in identifying priority issues. What are the questions we should be asking in research? We work with them to plan our approaches in ways that will effectively engage the populations we’re trying to reach.”

In addition to patients, in her research, Ganann collaborates with many other partners. This may include home care workers, public health, family doctors, nurse practitioners, hospital staff, or social services staff. “Many things influence health – social connection or isolation, for example,” she says. “Or transportation. How easy or difficult is it for older adults to access the services available in the community? How do we design services to address challenges older adults face and best meet their needs?”

Decision-makers also play a key role in turning these recommendations into real policy change. “Decision-makers could be at the provincial level or at a more local level through the LHIN or at organizations like home and community care services or other organizations. We’re trying to engage them throughout the process. We’re not just going to people at the end of the study and saying:  here is what we did and we hope it aligns with what you’re doing. We make sure we address issues that interest policy-makers.”

Collaborating with many partners has one main goal. “We want to do research that has a potential to make a real-world impact,” says Ganann.

Getting people around the table isn’t the only issue, though. You also need to know how to listen to them. This is especially true when it comes to patients. “I’m really interested in knowing how we best engage older adults and caregivers. How do we support them to be partners at the table, deal with potential power imbalances, make sure their voices are heard, make sure we’re engaging them but also not burdening them? And how do we make sure we’re engaging the right populations to inform that particular question? There’s a big push to do patient-oriented approaches and patient engagement in research teams, which I fully support. But I’m not sure that we really know the impact of it. How do we achieve the optimal benefits or impact from partnering in research – for the research and for our patient partners? At what point is the best return on investment? And how much is enough? Are we engaging the right people? Are some voices heard and others marginalized?”

Ganann hopes to learn more about this subject from a study she is co-leading. It’s related to the larger hospital-to-home study. She will be evaluating that project’s patient-engagement strategy and looking at its impact. “We have three sites in Ontario. We’ll be doing interviews with patient partners to find out what has worked well, and are there things we could be doing better. This will provide valuable information for other researchers who are looking to do patient-engagement. And for our later studies, it will help us to refine our processes.” 

Research project details: 

Markle-Reid, M., McAiney, C., Price, D., Valaitis, R., Ploeg, J., Fisher, K., Ganann, R., Kates, N., Lavis, J., Cairney, J., Thabane, L., Gafni, A., Vedel, I., Warry, W., Neufeld, E., Slater, M., Wilson, P., Flaherty, B., McElhaney, J., Williams, C., Johnson, B.*, Heald-Taylor, G.*, Ogden, L.*, & Reid, P.*   *Patient/caregiver knowledge users.  Effectiveness-implementation trial to evaluate a hospital-to-home transitional care intervention compared to usual care for older adults with multiple chronic conditions and depression. Funded through: SPOR SUPPORT IMPACT Award (May 2016 – September 2019; $1,020,000) 

Affiliated Patient Engagement Evaluation study funded through:  R. Valaitis, M. Markle-Reid, J. Ploeg, C. McAiney, R. Ganann. Patient/caregiver engagement in community-based research on older adults. Labarge Foundation Award (June 2016 – Dec. 2018; $75,000)


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