ICU national research network: First of its kind in Canada

By Steven Gallagher

A Niagara Health physician is leading the launch of a national network to support the growth of research in Intensive Care Units at community hospitals in Canada.

The Canadian Community ICU Research Network, which held its inaugural meeting on Nov. 11 in Toronto, is the brainchild of Dr. Jennifer Tsang, Niagara Health’s Research Lead and Intensivist.

Dr. Tsang worked closely with Dr. Alexandra Binnie, an Intensivist at William Osler Health System, to see her idea come to fruition.

“The goal of the network, a first of its kind in Canada, is to develop strategies for building and sustaining research programs in community hospitals,” says Dr. Tsang, who also credited Niagara Health Intensivist Dr. Erick Duan for his collaboration in developing the network. “Research has a profound impact on the health and wellbeing of the people who live in our communities. Health research provides important information about disease trends and risk factors, outcomes of treatment and patterns of care, to name a few.”

More than 65 per cent of Canadian patients receive care in community hospitals, but, historically, most medical research has been conducted in academic hospitals in larger centres.

“If you’re only studying patients in the academic centres, the results are not applicable to everyone,” says Dr. Tsang.

Representatives from about 20 hospitals, universities and research organizations from four provinces – Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and Manitoba – attended the inaugural meeting, which was sponsored by Niagara Health and Niagara Health Foundation. The meeting focused on describing the current research landscape in community ICUs, discussing strategies to build research capacity in community ICUs and defining the structure and scope of the research network.

Niagara Health, a regional healthcare provider with multiple sites, has been a leader when it comes to research in a community hospital setting, working closely with its academic partners.

Niagara Health established a dedicated Research Office in 2015 to strengthen its research and academic partnerships and set out to conduct research that would inform care, inspire innovation and create environments of collaborative learning.

Research and clinical trials are taking place in several Niagara Health departments/divisions, including the Intensive Care Unit, Oncology, Urology, Cardiology and Emergency Medicine.

Dr. Tsang and Paige Gehrke, a Registered Nurse in the ICU at Niagara Health’s St. Catharines Site, recently had their work published in the prestigious Canadian Medical Association Journal (September 3, 2019 issue), examining the impact of research activity in community health settings.

They were part of a team of clinicians who suggest that increased involvement in research could offer more capacity for national research, expedite knowledge translation, increase staff engagement, opportunities for continuing education and enhanced clinician career satisfaction, among many other benefits.


Steven Gallagher is a Communications Specialist at Niagara Health.