November 17, 2021

Spotlight on: child health researcher Rachel Flynn

Rachel Flynn

Photo: William Au

Rachel Flynn, an assistant professor in the Faculty of Nursing, is evaluating the sustainability of evidence-based innovations used to improve child health outcomes—an understudied yet critically important area of research. Flynn’s research program will help ensure that the money spent on evidence-based innovations is necessary and if they are effective, can be sustained, scaled and spread to other child health settings. Sustainability is the degree to which an innovation continues to be used and produces benefits after efforts of implementation have ended.

You were one of WCHRI’s inaugural postdoctoral fellows in 2019. What does your research program examine? 

My research program SUSTAINING INNOVATIONS IN CHILD HEALTH, or STITCH, is focused on improving the sustainability and impact of evidence-based innovations, across various child health contexts for different health conditions. The STITCH research program will advance the long-term use and impact of innovations targeted to improve child health, contribute to understanding the return on investment of innovations, and reduce waste and improve the efficiency of healthcare delivery for children and their families. 

The STITCH research program is founded on the principles of collaboration, engagement and partnership with healthcare leaders, providers, parents and families to achieve greater health system impact. Sustained delivery of effective evidence-based innovations is essential to public health impact and it is one of the least understood areas for implementation research. 

Are there any outcomes from your postdoctoral fellowship research that you’re able to share?

The review from my postdoctoral fellowship showed a lack of evaluation and measurement of patient outcomes when looking at the sustainability of evidence-based innovations. There is a disconnect in existing evidence on the sustainability of innovation and the impact of that on patient outcomes over time. Our findings demonstrate the need to measure long-term patient outcomes when evaluating the sustainability of evidence-based child health innovations. 

What impact do you hope your fellowship project makes and how is your research contributing to improving the health of children?

My research will impact child health by determining how and why innovations are sustained or not and impactful to patients. We will use this information to co-produce evidence-based knowledge translation interventions to improve child health outcomes and care delivery. This will help ensure the sustainability and long-term impact of effective innovations.

Have you always been interested in this area of research, or was there a catalyst that piqued your interest? 

As a nurse, I was always interested in the area of healthcare improvement and how we can provide the best care for our patients. My interest in sustainability was sparked from my clinical role as a nurse where I experienced constant implementation of new practices and innovations, but a lack of effort in sustaining them. Furthermore, during my training as an implementation scientist trainee, I discovered great research on the science of implementation across child health contexts but a lack of research on how to sustain effective implementation efforts of innovations long-term.

You recently joined the Faculty of Nursing as an assistant professor. How did your fellowship prepare you for this new role?

The WCHRI postdoctoral fellowship enabled me to gain additional research training in sustainability research and implementation science in two very competitive training environments—at the University of Alberta with Stollery Science Lab Distinguished Researcher Shannon Scott and at the University of Toronto with world-renowned pediatric pain management researcher Bonnie Stevens. I was able to develop other research networks in child health and build new research collaborations and successfully develop my research program during my fellowship.

Why do you think it’s important to invest in children’s health research? 

Investing in children’s health research is investing in our future. Developing, implementing, spreading and sustaining effective innovations for child health will have a long-term impact on our health system. Supporting child health research and the development of preventative health solutions in early childhood years provides the best opportunity to shape a healthier, more prosperous society. 

What does the support of the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation mean to you? 

The Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation has supported my research training and enabled my program to flourish. Without their support, I would not have had the research and educational opportunities that I have had to date. Their support has helped me to build research partnerships with parents, providers and child health leaders where we share the vision to sustain the most effective ways to provide care for all children in Alberta, with the ultimate goal to improve the quality of child health care delivery and outcomes.