The System Awakens: Building Learning Health Systems in Canada

For three decades, CHSPR’s annual conference has provided a platform for thought-provoking dialogues on emerging research in the health services and policy domain. In 2018, the conference addressed the question of how British Columbia can become a learning health system. In a learning health system, every patient interaction is treated as a learning activity, and the ethos of the system overall is improvement. Speakers shared the latest thinking on learning health systems and facilitated conversations on how British Columbia can adopt the principles and actions that define such systems.

The conference was structured around keynote and plenary panel presentations, with ample opportunity for facilitated discussion. Delegates presented their work and experiences around learning health systems in short oral presentation and poster sessions, and engagement with all speakers and presenters was encouraged. Web and video based technology was employed to facilitate sharing of new knowledge during and after the conference.

The key objective of the conference was to bring together researchers, policy-makers, decision-makers, clinicians, students, patient partners, and interested public who would be involved in creating, implementing, and being part of a learning health system. Speakers included Charles Friedman of the University of Michigan, an international leader in learning health systems and our opening keynote; Nancy Kass, a Johns Hopkins bioethicist who has written extensively about learning health systems; Lucy Savitz of Kaiser Permanente as our closing keynote; and Jean-François Ethier (Université de Sherbrooke), David Ford (College of Medicine in Swansea University, Wales), and Walter Wodchis (University of Toronto) as a panel showcasing learning health system exemplars from outside of BC from which we can learn.

The program also featured panels taking inventory of nascent learning health systems (and precursors) in BC, and anticipating issues in transforming to learning health systems, such as ethical concerns, policy barriers, informatics challenges, and gaps in leadership. Immediately post-conference, meetings of collaborative groups seeded with conference speakers were organized, intended to help create concrete action plans for moving learning health system ideas into practice in BC. We expect that many conference delegates will bring ideas back to their organizations and act as learning health system ‘champions’ to facilitate transformation in BC.

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