Mac research facility provides secure access to Ontario’s health data


At the opening of McMaster’s ICES facility were: Steve Collins, associate dean, research for the Faculty of Health Sciences; Hsien Seow, incoming site director for the facility; John Cairney, inaugural but outgoing site director; Michael Schull, president and CEO of ICES

McMaster University researcher John You found that a provincial initiative to improve access to MRI scans did so for wealthy Ontarians but not for people from poorer neighbourhoods. McMaster health services researcher Hsien Seow discovered that increased end-of-life homecare reduced unnecessary hospitalizations, hospital emergency visits and deaths while reducing overall system cost. Their findings are examples of research using administrative health data securely provided by the province’s Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

They are among the researchers who will use McMaster’s ICES research facility, which officially opened in the Health Sciences Centre on Monday, June 20. The satellite facility is a joint collaboration between ICES and McMaster with its academic hospitals Hamilton Health Sciences and St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton.

The facility will help scientists develop better ways to assess the quality and safety of health care in Ontario by accessing millions of anonymous health care records from across the province. ICES’s vast and secure array of population-wide health-related data includes population-based health surveys, anonymous patient records, as well as clinical and administrative databases. The data can be linked together at the individual level while keeping all records anonymous and protected.

The new 2,300 square-foot facility with 14 workstations has been made both physically and data secure, and scientists who would like to work with the data must pass a rigorous screening process. Previously, most Hamilton researchers have had to travel to ICES’s central office in Toronto to access the ICES data. Seven McMaster scientists are currently approved as ICES researchers, but more will be vetted.

Current areas of research focus at the McMaster site are health services research and health policy; gastrointestinal disorders; patient safety; child and youth health; mental health and addiction; sports and exercise medicine; access to and quality of health care; social determinants of health; drug interactions; palliative and end-of-life care; oncology; and developmental disorders.

“McMaster is the birthplace of evidence-based medicine, and access to this unique database will enhance our research community’s ability to remain at the forefront of innovation in healthcare,” said Dr. Steve Collins, associate dean, research for McMaster’s Faculty of Health Sciences. “This facility will be a catalyst for collaborations between faculty members across many disciplines through the university and with our hospital partners and other universities that will result in improvements to health care in Ontario.”

Site director for establishment of McMaster’s ICES site has been John Cairney, who is also a professor of family medicine for McMaster’s Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine. He added: “We know this will be a high use facility for both research and the training of highly qualified personnel, and this will expand both the capacity and capability of researchers here in Hamilton.”

As Cairney is leaving for Toronto at the end of the month, the new site director for the ICES facility will be Hsien Seow, associate professor of oncology.

Dr. Michael Schull, president and CEO of ICES, said: “We’re very pleased that ICES McMaster will now join our other ICES satellites in Kingston, Ottawa, Toronto and London, and soon another new satellite in northern Ontario.

“By regionally expanding the number of scientists and the breadth of scientific expertise available, the ICES satellites extend the capacity of ICES to generate high-quality research that contributes to the effectiveness, quality, equity and efficiency of health care and health services for all people in Ontario.”

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