A Toolkit for HealthCare Trailblazers

Designing an online tool to help users develop informed interventions

By Farha Akhtar, Photo by Sidney Ray

Anyone striving to make improvements to healthcare will tell you, informed healthcare interventions require hard evidence.

Dr. Nancy Santesso, is Deputy Director of Cochrane Canada, an organization which specializes in turning evidence generated through research into useful information for making everyday decisions about health. As she simply puts it, “People need evidence to make decisions.”

But how to actually gather the evidence in the first place is an area where patients, researchers, and practitioners often struggle.

When master’s student Jennifer Sedgewick began her traineeship with SCPOR in 2018, the puzzle she was tasked to solve by her supervisors at the University of Saskatchewan Health Sciences Library, was to create an innovative and interactive way to teach people how to conduct a synthesis or systematic review.

Systematic reviews are considered the gold standard for informing evidence-based practice. According to Sedgewick, these types of reviews are time-consuming and often difficult to execute. Rather than create a class on how to do this, the idea surfaced of creating a simple, easy-to-use, online toolkit that could be accessible to anyone at anytime.

It was a daunting challenge to take on such a big project Sedgewick admits. Librarians are often tasked with guiding students and researchers on the process. But the idea to create an online tool was to give researchers more independence over their work.

“It’s time consuming to do these reviews if you don’t know where to even look for information.”

Drawing on the expertise of two systematic review experts, Dr. Thomas Rotter and Dr. Angela Bush, her supervisor, University of Saskatchewan Librarian Dr. Catherine Boden, and Librarian collaborators, Angie Gerrard and Carolyn Doi, Sedgewick began designing the online toolkit. In order to make the toolkit useful to a wide variety of users with different skill-sets, she turned to her background in studio art and included video components, and even animation to make it interactive and visually appealing. The goal was to make a tool that was accessible and understandable to everyone.

“A lot of people don’t work in the walls of the university, especially when it comes to patient-oriented research”

“This is a tool that could be used by faculty or patients who want to create interventions that are evidence-based.”

To date, more than 700 users have accessed the Synthesis Review Toolkit, which is housed at the University of Saskatchewan Library website. Reviews by users of the toolkit have ranked it extremely favorably saying as a tool, it enhances patient-oriented research capacity and that the skills gained from the toolkit will help researchers achieve positive impacts on health.

Applying Skills directly to Patient-Oriented Research

Christine Andrews Stobart, Lead of SCPOR’s Knowledge Translation and Capacity Development Platform, praises Sedgewick for helping develop a tool that helps build capacity not only for researchers but patients as well.

“If we want patients to be active and engaged members of research teams, we need to ensure they have the skills when they sit at the table with researchers.”

“The Synthesis Review Toolkit helps to demystify one of the hardest aspects of research by walking the user step-by-step through the evidence gathering process.”

“With this toolkit, a patient can gain a deeper understanding about the health concern they are exploring, making them not just experts in their lived experience, but highly aware of what the literature says in that field.”

Already, Andrews Stobart points out the toolkit has been used by another trainee to complete her patient-oriented research thesis that is looking at improving the birth experience of Indigenous mothers.

It’s been deeply satisfying for Sedgewick to have been part of such a successful project. She says through developing this tool, she’s gained many useful skills which she has since been able to apply to other patient-oriented research projects, including one that is looking at Indigenous health interventions in Canada.

“I had a rudimentary knowledge of synthesis and systematic reviews. This traineeship, because it was with experts, gave me abilities to do these types of reviews.”

Sedgewick will build on those skills when she heads to York University this fall where she will pursue a PhD. She says she is happy she was able to help create a tool that advances patient-oriented research.

“This tool helps people in different parts of the country find evidence and best practices so they can create real solutions to real problems.”