McGill Launches Observatory on Health and Social Services Reforms

Photo: David Diao

Earlier this month, the McGill Observatory on Health and Social Service Reforms (MOHSSR) was launched jointly by the Institute of Health and Social Policy and the Department of Family Medicine. The Observatory strives to act as a focal point for research regarding health services, and in facilitating inter- and intra-community dialogue about the Canadian healthcare system.

Daniel Weinstock, Director of the Institute of Health and Social Policy, opened the launch by placing emphasis on the need for a program like MOHSSR. “The aim of MOHSSR is to identify indicators to track the success of reforms over time, to train a new generation of researchers in the methods that will allow them to engage in the research required to build the capacity we need to understand our own healthcare systems and those abroad, and to animate discussion amongst academics and stakeholders on what we’ve accomplished and what we’ll continue to accomplish,” said Weinstock. “We have a mandate to investigate the social conditions of healthcare, healthcare inequalities, and the way our healthcare system is organized.”

MOHSSR was established by the two institutions, but receives its funding from the Faculty of Medicine headed by Dean David Eidelman, a McGill graduate, clinician, and researcher. Dr. Eidelman spoke on behalf of the Faculty of Medicine and their decision to fund the observatory. He stressed its importance as a catalyst for facilitating dialogue within the community and capitalizing on the bright minds that are so readily available at McGill.

“McGill has an extraordinary number of capable people, and we’re – at least as an institute – not always as present as we should be. That was part of this. We need to have objective, well-studied facts in order to respond,” Eidelman stressed. “[This observatory is] a way of feeding back to the ministry ways to make [health service reform] better. Quebec is a laboratory, we’re doing an experiment on 8 million people, and it’s important to study [health] reforms in the experiment.”

Dr. Amélie Quesnel-Vallée, Associate Professor at McGill and Canada Research Chair in Policies and Health Inequalities, was appointed Director of MOHSSR in 2016. She spoke openly about the need for academic institutions to capitalize on their brightest minds, explaining that “universities are often criticized for being silos of excellence, and we don’t want this to be one. In order to get your support we will put our money where our mouth is.” This statement refers to three $10,000 grants currently being offered by MOHSSR to McGill faculty members conducting research on health and social services. MOHSSR requests that a minimum of $2,500 from each grant go to students supporting the research, and encourages that the rest be used for things like access to data, funding for pilot projects, and mobilization of community partners.

The launch’s keynote speaker was Dr. Danielle Martin. A family physician, McGill graduate, and author of Better Now: 6 Big Ideas to Improve Healthcare for All Canadians, Dr. Martin appeared in the United States Senate last year alongside Bernie Sanders advocating for universal healthcare coverage in the U.S.

Martin cited her own personal experience with the Canadian healthcare system as both a doctor and as a relative of someone needing urgent care. She shared patient experiences and emphasized the value of doctor-patient relationships as a way to facilitate more trust and better care. “Relationships have a direct and sizeable impact on health and wellness,” she remarked. “The best care comes from the best understanding, and this can be built overtime. Ideally, imperfect as we are, [family physicians] can serve as the patient’s north star in the healthcare system; fixed and reliable.”

Martin contended that the solution to problems that plague the Canadian healthcare system is not disregarding the system entirely, but improving what we already have. “The solution isn’t to pretend that it’s perfect, but to be responsible for being constructive in what we’re putting forward.” She emphasized the importance of a research institution like MOHSSR as a means of informing the public on contentious topics. “It’s really important to be bringing evidence and scholarship to the conversation [about reforms in Quebec], and about how we can organize our resources better in healthcare and how we can learn from each other. It’s our job to get out there in the public sphere and inform the public conversation on matters of concern.”

Martin went on to say that the observatory could be of aid to the government by identifying positive solutions that have worked elsewhere and encourage that they be applied on a grand scale. “There are extraordinary examples of collaboration between clinicians and governments happening across the country but these things don’t make the press. There are lots more collaborative models out there that we can be looking to. That’s one of the things I think an observatory can be looking to – looking out to the positive examples.”

To learn more about MOHSSR, visit their website here.

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