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A Q&A with Dr. Jason Sutherland

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Dr. Jason Sutherland

How do patients perceive their health? How does the way hospitals are funded affect how health care providers deliver their care? CHÉOS Scientist Dr. Jason Sutherland explores these questions, among others, in his research.

Dr. Sutherland is an Associate Professor at the Centre for Health Services and Policy Research at the School of Population and Public Health at UBC, and the Health Services and Outcomes Program Head at CHÉOS. He is interested in health care funding policy, and has previously worked on evaluating former U.S. President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, D.C.

We talked to Dr. Sutherland about his latest research and its impacts. He will be presenting “Health Care Funding Policy: Where are the Opportunities?” as part of our Work in Progress Seminar Series on February 15.

Q: What is the current focus of your research?

A: My program of research has two themes. The first examines how health care providers interact within the health care system and the effect of funding policies in changing their behaviours. For example, if there are financial incentives for one provider, how does it ripple out into patient care, and how do other health care providers respond? This research tends to use large administrative databases—for example, hospitalization discharge summaries, emergency department visit data, or physician billing. I have recently published on the health system’s response to a change in hospital funding policy.

The second theme of my research examines how patients’ health changes due to elective surgery. For example, which surgeries have the biggest impact on patients’ health or symptom relief? Does their ability to self-manage their own conditions change over time? For this research, I recruit patients and collect patient-reported outcomes over time.

For example, we collected patient-reported outcomes from over 3,000 patients in Vancouver Coastal Health Authority. We compared patients’ self-reported health with surgical wait times, and we found that patients in the poorest health waited the longest, while those patients with fewer health problems tended to wait less.

Q: Why do you find it imperative to do this work?

A: I find my research compelling since province’s health care delivery systems have not changed very much over the past 40 years. In spite of the good evidence that’s being generated across the country, and in other countries, the provinces haven’t adapted their delivery or funding systems to reflect the new and emerging demands of aging Canadians.

Q: What are the challenges of translating your findings into policy?

A: I try a number of different strategies for translating my research findings into policy. The most common media for me to express the results of what I do is through journal publications, though that is a very narrow picture of the health care system that I’m trying to affect change on. So, I engage in writing policy commentaries and policy briefs that I disseminate to a broader community. Finally, I try to participate in broader policy engagement through things like radio interviews and writing op-eds for nationally syndicated newspapers.

Q: People see health care as a deeply political and thus polarizing issue in some areas. What are your thoughts on how evidence-based research on health care delivery can exist in a climate where the topic is often tinted by ideology? 

A: My approach has been to synthesize research and present a very fact-based perspective of the evidence that I believe will generate policies that will improve a lot of Canadians’ lives. It can be frustrating to see that the best evidence isn’t always used to improve the delivery system, but the opportunity to do so keeps me going.