Majoring in biology at Yale University, Dr. Hsien Seow always had an interest in science, but experiencing cancer illness within his family is what solidified his career path in health services research, particularly palliative care. "I started asking questions about how people accessed health care, the needs of the dying, and how the organization of the health care system affected outcomes. Most importantly, I began to inquire about how the system could be improved," says Seow. Now he conducts research into the delivery of care for serious chronic diseases as a member of the department of oncology at McMaster University, where he is funded through the Cancer Care Ontario/OICR Health Services Research Program.
Seow says that although major advancements have been made in the treatment and diagnosis of chronic diseases such as cancer, the system for delivering health care is still organized for treating acute conditions. "In order to solve this problem, we need to examine the bigger picture of health care from the system level. We need to align financial incentives for providers to 'do the right thing' for the patient, within models of care that support multidisciplinary, team-based approaches to care that follow the patient across settings and providers," says Seow. Some of his interests include home and community care, particularly the impact of increasing access to homecare services, as well as evaluating innovative models to deliver care so that care is coordinated, integrated, and meets the needs of the sickest patients.
A recently conducted study showed that providing more homecare nursing hours to end-of-life cancer patients could reduce their likelihood of dying in hospital and using emergency department and hospital services at end-of-life. These results have major quality and costs implications within the health care system. Seow has set out to verify these findings using more stringent criteria and by expanding the study beyond Ontario to include Alberta, British Columbia and Nova Scotia.
"What I hope to find is that the findings of the initial study are indeed true; that we can provide better care to patients with cancer and save money within the health care system through a marginal increase in the amount of homecare nursing," says Seow.
One of the main uses of health services research is to use science to inform the process of policy-making, something Seow says Ontario has a strong reputation for. "After I finished my PhD at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health in the U.S., I returned to Ontario because there is a stronger linkage and dialogue between science and policy," he says.
According to Seow, Ontario's strong research infrastructure was another good reason to come home. "The Health Services Research Program is a great example of this infrastructure. It has brought attention to this field of research and has the people and the resources to study the entire continuum of cancer care. We are able to collaborate with an amazing group of cancer scientists, access incredibly rich data sources, and involve policy-makers in the research process. These factors together give us the potential to build the best cancer health care system in the world."
"What I hope to find is that the findings of the initial study are indeed true; that we can provide better care to patients with cancer and save money within the health care system through a marginal increase in the amount of homecare nursing."