Aug. 10, 2021

Improving patient care

Researcher passionate about patient engagement to improve patient outcomes and experiences
Dr. Maria Santana
Dr. Maria Santana By Dawn Smith

Cumming School of Medicine researcher, Dr. Maria Santana, PhD, has spent more than a decade investigating and implementing ways to improve patient care and experience.

An associate professor in the Departments of Pediatrics and Community Health Sciences, Santana works to improve patient outcomes by engaging with patients, patient families and communities to determine her research priorities. Her partnership with patients doesn’t end there, she works with patients throughout the research process to ensure the patient voice is included in her research outcomes.

“Patients can help us set priorities in research, assist with knowledge translation, and help us inform policy at the governance level,” says Santana. “We have evidence that when we engage patients as partners in health research, the quality of research design improves, there is wider impact and better adoption of the research findings.”

Previously a pharmacist, Santana earned her PhD in clinical epidemiology at the University of Alberta in 2009. This work resulted in the adoption of patient-reported outcomes measures as standard practice at the University of Alberta lung transplant clinics.

Santana went on to complete a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Calgary. During her postdoctoral work, she supported the development and implementation of an electronic discharge summary, to enhance communication with patients and their providers as patients transition across health care sectors.

For the past decade, Santana has been investigating ways to use patient-reported outcomes, including complaints submitted by patients and their families, to highlight potential gaps in care. Her goal is to develop better standards of care – that are relevant to patients, patient families and communities— at the systems level.

Santana’s expertise is widely recognized. She is the Patient Engagement Lead for Alberta Strategy for Patient Oriented Research SUPPORT Unit (AbSPORU), an organization dedicated to transforming health outcomes in Alberta through Patient-Oriented Research. She has informed policy at the federal level and has lectured at several international locations, including Oxford University. 

One of Santana’s recent collaborative projects identified priorities of patients with cardiovascular health concerns by engaging clinicians, researchers, patients and their families and other stakeholders.

“This has been important, because once we finished this project several researchers used the priorities we identified to inform their research projects,” says Santana, noting this makes the research more meaningful and potentially more effective for patients care.

In another project, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Santana’s team developed 26 person-centred quality indicators. The project was developed with input from Albertans and their communities and stakeholders across the country, including representatives from the BC Ministry of Health and the Canadian Institute for Health Information—to help measure person-centred care in health care.

Working closely with stakeholders at provincial and national level, including Alberta primary care networks, work is underway to implement these indicators into primary care.

“The objective is to make the research findings impactful by engaging patients, families and their communities in working with us to co-design health and health care and improve patient outcomes,” says Santana of her work.

Dr. Maria Santana, PhD, is an associate professor in the departments of Pediatrics and Community Health Sciences at the Cumming School of Medicine. She is a member of the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute.