Café Scientifique: Making health research available to the public

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Café Scientifique program fosters informal discussion about scientific research topics between the public, researchers and expert clinicians. They typically take place at cafés, pubs, restaurants, or in a community centre. They are about making health research accessible to the public. They are not intended to be lectures or seminars, but are a way of getting research knowledge about health issues of popular interest out to the general public. Gone are the days of scientists sitting isolated in their labs with their white coats on, never speaking to the public about their research.

The aim of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and School of Nursing, Faculty of Health Sciences, University of Ottawa’s CIHR Café Scientifique “Be Sweet and Safe to Kids during Pokes and Pains” was to share research about reducing pain in children with the public. We wanted to share with parents the many and innovative ways in which CHEO clinicians are researching how to reduce or best manage acute and chronic pain in children. This included research about working with children who have pain to enhance their functioning and quality of life; researching the safest ways to use strong analgesics such as morphine; and ways parents can advocate for their children’s pain management.

Why is pain an important topic to cover?

Every newborn infant and child experiences pain at some point early in his/her life. For instance, routine immunizations are usually a source of discomfort for children. Poorly managed pain has been associated with negative immediate and longer-lasting physiological, psychological, and social consequences, including fear and avoidance of medical care. Furthermore, some children suffering from chronic pain can also suffer from sleep disturbances and experience anxiety and depression which can lead to absenteeism in school. Research is key to addressing these issues and improving the quality of life for kids.

Our CIHR Café Scientifique program included a diverse panel of clinicians who addressed the topic of pain from mutliple angles. Here are some highlights of what was dicsussed:

Judy Rashotte, director, Nursing Research at CHEO and an investigator of the CIHR Team in Children’s Pain Study and Brenda Martelli, nurse practitioner, Acute and Chronic Pain Services and research nurse on the CIHR Team in Children’s Pain Study, focused on the innovative ways to move best pain practices into the care of hospitalized infants, children and youth. This research is part of a large nation-wide CIHR Team in Children’s Pain Study led by  professor Bonnie Stevens at Sick Kids in Toronto. CHEO is one of eight pediatric hospitals involved in this large pioneering study about how to use research about effective pain management to help children.

Elaine Wong, a critical care and medical safety pharmacist with over 20 years of experience at CHEO, focused on research to improve the safe use of pharmacological agents, including morphine and fentanyl for children.

Dr. Janice Cohen, clinical psychologist, Chronic Pain Service at CHEO and another investigator of the CIHR Team in Children’s Pain Study discussed research focusing on pain management for children with chronic abdominal pain. Dr. Cohen emphasized the need to work closely with the child and their family in working out factors contributing to pain, and the many options used to help children and their parents move the focus away from their pain. Techniques covered included guided imagery and breathing exercises that can help reduce the impact of pain on a child.

Dr. Christine LaMontagne, clinical medical director of CHEO’s Integrated Pain Services, presented new research questions and evidence regarding management of chronic pain conditions in children. Christine’s discussion focussed on research relating to the three P’s – Pharmacological, Physical and Psychological and the best ways to help children and their families with chronic pain.

The CIHR Café Scientifique model was highly effetive because we were able to answer questions that matter most to patients and share strategies that help children with pain, but even more so these community engagement opportunities are invaluable to clinical researchers. The resulting dialogue helps to fuel our future research projects – and there is no end to the passion coming from a parent who is dealing with a child in pain.