Health & Community Leaders Talk: Jim Woodgett

Ontario's health research hospitals make our province healthier, wealthier, and smarter

Health & Community Leaders Talk: Jim Woodgett

By Jim Woodgett, Director of Research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, part of Sinai Health System

Jim Woodgett

What does health research mean to you?

Health research is a spectrum, from making new and amazing discoveries through to identifying the best ways to implement best practices in delivery of care. We tend to see the delivery side of the pipe and forget that we have so much more to learn – about our biology, our susceptibilities, what most of our genes do (we are largely still in the dark), how diseases are caused, what might prevent them….  So many questions! Luckily for me in my job, I do get to see the whole pipeline – from new understandings of how worms move (which helps us understand diseases like Parkinson’s), to new therapeutics that we’ve helped develop and may be tested on our patients through to identifying new risk factors and ways to avoid exposures. There is a lot going on but there is always so much more to do. Our scientific ignorance is the biggest gap in achieving better quality of life

How does health research contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter Ontario?

The question is really, why Ontario? Why can’t we just let some other country develop better ways to provide care and we can then adopt them? Well, we could and we’d always be a few years behind. We’d never have control (of price, of coverage, of problems specific to Ontario). We’d yearn for our kids to visit as they moved to other parts of the world to make a difference. We’d fondly remember the world-class care we used to receive because the best physicians wanted to train here and improve the outcomes of their patients, here. We’d say goodbye to the burgeoning companies that pop up and grow in Ontario because we have a strong health research sector. We’d also lose our desire to make not only our own lives better, but also the lives of those so much less fortunate than Ontarians. That’s why.


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Read more Health and Community Leaders Talk blog posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter site and share your insights on Twitter with the hashtag, #onHWS. To learn more about how health research makes Ontario healthier, wealthier, and smarter, check out our website and our other blog posts and videos.

RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Women’s College Hospital

Big White Wall website at Women's College Hospitals

RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: Women’s College Hospital

Bringing virtual mental healthcare to Ontario

Researchers at the Women’s College Hospital (WCH) Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care are testing virtual mental health care that helps patients learn how to monitor and manage their symptoms and support others with similar problems – all while remaining anonymous. This is the largest comprehensive study of an online mental health service taking place now in Canada.

A new collaboration between the Ontario Telemedicine Network and Ontario hospitals is bringing an online service called the Big White Wall to the province and evaluating its potential as a strategy in mental healthcare. The Big White Wall is a website and app developed in the United Kingdom that allows those experiencing mental health concerns to share their feelings with peers in an anonymous community monitored by trained counsellors. The service also provides articles and courses with tips about improving your mental health.

One in five Canadians experience mental illness each year. Dr. Jennifer Hensel, a psychiatrist and lead scientist on the project says that virtual mental healthcare presents us with an exceptional opportunity to help more people access support, gain knowledge and remove barriers from stigma through greater anonymity. “There are so many people with mental health problems that our system’s capacity to provide enough care to everybody just isn’t there,” says Dr. Hensel.

In fact, the researchers are primarily focusing on recruiting patients who are on wait lists to receive mental health services. The pilot will recruit 1,000 patients aged 16 and up from WCH, Ontario Shores Centre for Mental Health Sciences and Lakeridge Health. Participants will be able to use the Big White Wall service to complement existing care.

Dr. Hensel is an Innovation Fellow at the WCH Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV), which investigates new ideas to improve health outcomes, both at the individual and population level, while reducing costs across the entire healthcare system. WIHV will evaluate the results of the pilot when it concludes in June of 2017.

The evaluation will assess whether access to the Big White Wall improves mental health recovery, lowers participants’ anxiety and depression levels, reduces calls to mental health crisis lines and decreases the number of emergency department visits for issues related to mental health.

The researchers hypothesize that the service will help participants to manage their own symptoms through these online resources. Dr. Hensel, who is also a research fellow of Women’s College Research Institute, says that self-management is a promising aspect of virtual care, particularly for the majority of people who seek mental health services for mild to moderate symptoms. “Helping people learn how to self-manage their problems, build their own goals and implement strategies is really important,” she said. She added that self-management is beneficial for maintaining mental health over the long-term, for example, preventing future episodes of depression.

Dr. Hensel says that Big White Wall is just one example of the virtual services that WIHV is testing to see whether it is worthy of being scaled up across the entire healthcare system. The aim of the pilot evaluation is to understand more about the people for whom apps like Big White Wall work and why. This can inform future approaches to online mental health treatment in Ontario.


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Women’s College Hospital is one of Ontario’s 24 research hospitals that contribute to a healthier, wealthier, smarter province. Look for other RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT posts on our Healthier, Wealthier, Smarter blog or join the conversation about why health research matters for Ontario on Twitter, using the hashtag #onHWS.

Patients + Research: John Howse

Patients + Research is a platform for patients to discuss their relationship and experience with the research that leads to new cures, cares and treatments.

Patients + Research: John Howse

Meet John

A few years ago, John Howse was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. After hearing about a clinical trial at Mount Sinai Hospital for short-term insulin therapy, John decided to get involved in research.

John Howse has been a Firefighter for 31 years.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your health story?

I am a career Firefighter with 31 years of service.  I was recovering from an injury a few years ago.  At that time I was also diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes.  It was shortly after the diagnosis that I saw an interview on the evening news about a research study at Mount Sinai Hospital which intrigued me.  It was investigating the possibility of inducing a remission using insulin for 3-4 weeks at time – called short-term insulin therapy. Participating in the trial was the one thing I could do while recovering and I felt the need to contribute to answering just another question researchers were asking.

Does health research matter to you?

Absolutely.  It should matter to everyone.  Most people don’t think about it until it impacts them in some way.  I am no different.  I’ve donated both my time and money in the past when people I’m close to become ill. Suddenly illness has become my personal focus.

How does health research contribute to a healthier Ontario?

I believe that there is a better chance of encouraging participation in clinical trials if the research is done in our own backyard. Ontarians are rightly proud of medical breakthroughs and there is an opportunity to bring more awareness to the cause by celebrating our successes publicly.  I think that Ontario should lead whenever possible and reap the benefits of discoveries.

How can patients and families support, improve or empower health research?

Personal stories are always the most powerful.  The stories that impact me the most are from the people experiencing tragedy, losing hope, turning to some leading edge research or procedure and recovering.  Patients have the power to encourage researchers to carry on even in the face of failure.

Read more about John’s story on the Mount Sinai Hospital website.

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Add your voice to the Patients + Research blog series. Email or call Elise Bradt at, 416-205-1469, or direct message or tweet at us on Twitter at @CAHOhospitals.

Read more Patients + Research posts and share your own insights on Twitter with the hashtag #onHWS. To learn more about how health research makes Ontario healthier, wealthier and smarter, visit our impact page, and check out our other blog posts and videos.