July 2, 2024

Project aims to address child health inequalities through electronic health records

One Child Every Child initiative announces catalyst grant awardees
A woman in a red blazer
Nicole Johnson and her team received Catalyst Grant funding.

Factors like household income, education, and food security, known as social determinants of health, can significantly impact health outcomes. The World Health Organization defines social determinants of health as conditions in which individuals are born, grow up, work, live, and age, and they're shaped by a broader set of societal forces and systems.

A research team at the University of Calgary, led by Dr. Nicole Johnson, MD, believes including this kind of information in paediatric electronic health records could greatly benefit children as we seek to address health inequities experienced by paediatric patients. This innovative project is one of 26 that has been awarded funding through the inaugural One Child Every Child Catalyst Grant competition.

Catalyst Grants

Over $3.5 million has been awarded to 26 child-health focused research projects, including $1 million in support from the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and the Azrieli Accelerator at the University of Calgary.

The competition was open to researchers from all One Child Every Child lead and partner institutions, including the University of Calgary, University of Alberta, University of Lethbridge, and Athabasca University. These awards are designed to foster interdisciplinary collaborations and build on existing expertise.

"We were thrilled by the breadth and diversity of the research projects submitted," says Dr. François Bernier, project lead for One Child Every Child and director of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.

"Our goal is to harness the creative power of our researchers to generate real-world solutions that will positively impact our local, national, and global communities."

The funded projects range from creating a hand-held portable ultrasound with automated AI image analysis for hip dysplasia to pioneering better methods for the rapid diagnosis of bacterial infections in newborns. Additionally, the investment includes a project aimed at developing a comprehensive support system for Indigenous youth with chronic diseases who are transitioning into the adult health-care system.

Data collection

Johnson is advocating for the consistent inclusion of social determinants in electronic health records, such as race, religion, transportation needs, and immigration status.

“It's known that patients with different social demographics, even with the same medical condition, will have different health-care outcomes. We need to find ways to measure those differences to solve these health inequities across different groups,” she says.

Johnson further emphasizes the potential benefits of this research project: "For instance, those residing in rural areas often face challenges accessing specialists. The additional travel distance and associated costs can adversely affect health outcomes. By capturing these elements in health records, we can look for solutions to improve care."

Next steps

As a next step, the research team is conducting focus groups with children and families, clinicians, investigators, innovators, and policy-makers to assess which social determinants of health would be most useful to collect. 

The research team emphasizes the importance of this diverse input in that “each clinic is set up differently and staffed differently. That's why it would be good to hear from different providers and hear from different families,” says Johnson.

In addition to determining what data to collect, the team is also considering who would be best positioned to collect and input this data — for example, a nurse, a physician, a hospital administrator — or whether it could be self-reported by children, youth and their families.

The research team includes investigators from the Universities of Alberta, Lethbridge and Toronto and partnerships with Children's Health Care Canada and the Canadian Paediatric Society.

Funding was provided by One Child Every Child through the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, and the Azrieli Accelerator. View all 26 funded projects.

One Child Every Child

A Canada-first research and translation initiative funded by the Canada First Research Excellence Fund, with a vision for all Canadian children to be the healthiest, most empowered and thriving in the world. Led by the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute at the University of CalgaryOne Child Every Child brings together Indigenous partners, Canada’s child health research institutes, equity-deserving communities, local and national partners as well as global collaborators to dramatically improve the lives of children across Canada and beyond. 

Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation

The Alberta Children's Hospital Foundation inspires our community to invest in excellence in child health, research, and family-centred care. Through the generosity of donors, the foundation funds innovative programs, state-of-the-art equipment, advanced medical training, and internationally recognized child health research. The Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation is a founding partner and the primary funder of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Together, we can create the best health and best future for children and families. 

François Bernier is a professor in the departments of Medical Genetics and Pediatrics at the Cumming School of Medicine, director of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and project lead of One Child Every Child. A clinical geneticist at Alberta Children’s Hospital (ACH), he is a member of the Owerko Centre for Neurodevelopment and Child Mental Health.

Nicole Johnson is a clinical associate professor in the Department of Paediatrics at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute in the Cumming School of Medicine, and a paediatric rheumatologist at Alberta Children’s Hospital.

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