Dr. Valeria Rac named Canada Research Chair in Health System and Technology Evaluation

December 6, 2023

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By Alisa Kim

Upon wrapping up a meeting with new members of her research team, Dr. Valeria Rac quickly checked her email and learned of some exciting news: she had been awarded a Tier 2 Canada Research Chair (CRC). “It made me really, really happy. I was thrilled,” says Rac, who is an associate professor at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation.

Established in 2000, the Canada Research Chairs program is at the heart of a national strategy to make Canada a global leader in research and development. The professorship aims to foster research excellence in engineering and natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and social sciences. The Tier 2 CRC awarded to Rac, worth $600,000 over five years, recognizes exceptional emerging researchers who are considered leaders in their fields. 

Her program of research focuses on assessing health technologies for management of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Rac notes “health technology” is broadly defined and includes devices, drugs, procedures, care pathways and programs.

Health technologies have great potential to improve quality of life, safety, accessibility and personalization of care. There can also be downsides, including harm to patients and increased costs. For example, new technologies account for 50 per cent of the growth in health care costs over the past five decades.

As the CRC in Health System and Technology Evaluation, Rac aims to broaden how health innovations are evaluated and also promote early Health Technology Assessment – early HTA. “I do expanded health technology assessment. Traditional or mainstream health technology assessment usually looks at things like effectiveness, cost-effectiveness and safety,” says Rac, noting her team uses a more holistic approach that looks at the ethical, legal, contextual and organizational implications of a technology in addition to medical and economic factors so that impact is also measured on a societal level.

Working with relevant stakeholders including patients and caregivers as well as community partners, her team will evaluate various health technologies early in their development, creating a learning health system. This approach will create an opportunity to provide continuous feedback and apply learnings so that the technologies are more useful to patients and the health care system at large.

Rac notes the care programs her team evaluates are mostly based in the community, rather than in hospitals. “It’s really community-based research,” she says. “For example, different diabetes initiatives are implemented in community health centres, which serve the most underserved patient populations. Approximately 20 to 25 per cent of them don’t have provincial health insurance. These are patients that usually fall through the cracks. Whatever we co-design and whatever we evaluate, it is usually focused on highly underserved patient populations,” says Rac.

The aim of the research is to generate evidence and provide decision support for the implementation of technologies that empower patients, improve outcomes and create high-functioning, cost-effective health systems. Ultimately, this work will help guide policy makers in determining which technologies should be adopted and how they should be integrated in the Canadian health care system. 

Reflecting on the award, Rac says the CRC is recognition of the hard work and skill of her research group. “Behind every success, there is a team and this was a team effort.”

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