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(l) Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos (r) Dr. Tarun Katapally Photo (Heather): Michael Bell courtesy of SHRF; Photo (Tarun): Debra Marshall courtesy of SHRF

Patient-oriented research receives $500,000 boost

A significant number of people in the province are impacted by alcohol misuse and sleep problems, while the physical, mental, and emotional health of young people is a matter of great concern. Today, patient-oriented researchers at the University of Regina who are addressing these vital issues received a $500,000 boost in funding.

A significant number of people in the province are impacted by alcohol misuse and sleep problems, while the physical, mental, and emotional health of young people is a matter of great concern. Today, patient-oriented researchers at the University of Regina who are addressing these vital issues received a $500,000 boost in funding. 

The Patient-Oriented Research Leadership Grant was jointly awarded by the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) and the Saskatchewan Centre for Patient-Oriented Research (SCPOR) to psychology professor Dr. Heather Hadjistavropoulos and to Dr. Tarun Katapally, associate professor at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy's University of Regina campus. The funding will be used to improve patient outcomes in Saskatchewan. 

Katapally is spearheading innovations in digital population health data collection and citizen science by engaging youth and educators in Saskatchewan using the SMART Platform. His project will allow youth and educators to become patient citizen scientists (PCS) in this patient-oriented research. 

“Our PCS will download a custom-built smartphone app to engage with researchers over the next three years,” he says.

Katapally’s project will help develop an advanced digital and mobile health platform that will improve youth physical, mental, and emotional health informed by the data he will collect from his citizen scientists. 

“For example, we aim to address anxiety and stress in real-time through messages pushed through our custom-built smartphone app,” says Katapally.

He will also be able to evaluate population health interventions, such as the legalization of marijuana, through longitudinal smartphone-based data collection that’s driven by youth PCS, as well as to inform and influence policy interventions at multiple levels of implementation, such as informing school policies that reduce bullying among youth by taking into account the experiences of PCS. 

"It is time to address the Canadian data crisis and population health risks by leveraging one ubiquitous device that almost everyone owns – smartphones,” says Katapally. “It is an honour to receive the Patient-Oriented Research Leader Award. This funding will enable my lab to test various approaches of real-time patient engagement to address data gaps, population health risks, and public policy roadblocks." 

Hadjistavropoulos, director of the University’s Online Therapy Unit, says that internet-delivered cognitive behaviour therapy (ICBT) overcomes barriers to face-to-face therapy by delivering patient-friendly treatment materials over the internet. Therapists also provide weekly email and/or phone support during the treatment program, which typically lasts two to three months. 

“Since 2010 more than 5,000 patients have been screened and more than 3,770 patients have received internet-delivered therapy for depression and/or anxiety, all supported by more than 150 therapists working either in the Unit or in community mental health clinics in the province,” says Hadjistavropoulos. 

Hadjistavropoulos says that the Unit’s completion rates and outcomes have been excellent, and that the goal is now to expand program offerings. 

"I am very grateful and excited to be receiving this grant that will allow me to collaborate very closely with patients to develop and evaluate two new internet-delivered therapy programs for use in Saskatchewan, one for alcohol misuse and one for sleep problems,” says Hadjistavropoulos. “Both of these problems are common and disabling, but are often under-treated. With this grant there is significant potential to improve patient access to care and patient outcomes.” 

Hadjistavropoulos says that after conducting feasibility trials, her team will assess the acceptability, patient outcomes, strengths, and challenges of the programs, and then collaborate on interpreting and sharing results and developing future research. 

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