The 2018 Peggy Leatt Award: A Conversation with Robyn Tamblyn on Improving Outcomes in Canada’s Health System

July 9, 2018

Robyn Tamblyn, Scientific Director of the CIHR-Institute of Health Services and Policy Research, has been named the recipient of the 2018 IHPME Peggy Leatt Award, recognizing her tremendous work in the development of transformative evidence that has sought to improve Canada’s health system.

Profile of Robyn Tamblyn

“It is a huge honour and an incredible surprise,” said Tamblyn, who is also a professor in the Departments of Medicine, Epidemiology & Biostatistics at McGill University in Montreal. “I’ve always considered myself to be a researcher closer to the front line, and it’s a thrill to be recognized alongside the brilliant scholars who have worked on international and national health policy.”

Tamblyn, a self-identified researcher at heart, has turned almost every job into a research project. In the early stages of her career as a nurse practitioner in neurology, Tamblyn began working on a new model of care for patients with chronic, untreatable conditions. She proposed that these patients needed more than just a diagnosis, they needed a coordinated care team, and she wanted to evaluate whether this type of model would in fact make a difference.

“I have always been driven by this question, how can we improve outcomes?” said Tamblyn, “there are so many unanswered questions in health care, and research really becomes a right hand tool in making these evaluations.”

This question has been the spark behind much of Tamblyn’s research including her work on prescription drug use and computerized interventions to improve drug safety, which have won her numerous awards. Some of her earliest studies have looked at prescribing practices where a lack of information sharing between physicians put the patient’s safety at risk.

Seeing the need for computerized intervention, Tamblyn has also worked on the development of software platform that retrieves vital information from insurers to alert physicians to any prescribing problems. While this has dealt with safety in some respects, there are still a number of challenges with drug management and cost efficiencies that Tamblyn feels need to be addressed.

“We have this system that has failed,” said Tamblyn. “We know that drugs are often used in conditions for which they are never tested, or used in populations that were never a part of the initial trial populations, but we are lacking a monitoring system to capture a drug’s effectiveness in the real world.”

Tamblyn currently co-leads a Canadian Foundation for Innovation Informatics Laboratory that creates advanced technologies to monitor adverse events in populations as well as new tools to improve the safety and effectiveness of health care.

In her role as Scientific Director of CIHR-IHSPR, Tamblyn points to four highlights of her career that have helped to bring about significant changes and improvements for health researchers across the country, from developing funding alliances that foster modernized educational training, to award recognition for clinician scientists, and e-health innovation initiatives.

“It is an enormous privilege to be a representative for your community at the national funding agency, even though every third day you wonder if you are doing enough,” she said.

Of these many achievements, Tamblyn has expressed the most excitement for the launch of a national data platform, which provides a single portal of access for data requests. This platform eliminates the costly way researchers have been forced to access data, removing barriers that were in effect preventing much needed national studies in health services and policy research.

“It has always been a challenge to access data cross provincially, now we have linked data access even at the territorial level, and this is a huge asset for Canada,” said Tamblyn.

Looking towards the future of Canada’s health system, Tamblyn sees two major areas that could benefit from improvement, access to mental health care particularly for adolescents, and the ability of the health system to manage chronic disease.

“80% of hospitalizations are now for chronic disease, and we are not set-up to manage that with our fractured and siloed systems,” said Tamblyn. “Everybody can identify the problems, but finding solutions that will work is an entirely different challenge.”

Tamblyn will be recognized at the Peggy Leatt Award Reception on Thursday September 6, at the University of Toronto Faculty Club. All are invited to attend. To register for this event, please visit: https://ihpme.utoronto.ca/events/peggy-leatt-knowledge-and-impact-award-2018/