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Stephens Memorial, Healthy Oxford Hills to kickoff patient-engaged research

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NORWAY — Maine Medical Center, using funds from a five-year, $20 million grant, will take its first steps towards implementing a community-engaged research program in Western Maine, according to Jim Douglas, director of Healthy Oxford Hills.

Douglas said that in 2017, the National Institute of Health awarded Maine Medical Center and the University of Vermont a joint grant “for about $20 million over the next five years.”

He said that the purpose of the grant was to create “new capacity to conduct research” that will “translate to doctor’s practices in rural settings.”

“A lot of research right now is done by academics or doctors,” Douglas said. “They go out, pull people together, get their data, say, ‘Thank you for your information, and we’ll see you later.’”

He said the grant from NIH will allow Maine Medical to “create a three-legged team of patients, academics and doctors” that will be able to research a specific topic from beginning to end.

“Most clinical, translational research is done in university hospital settings with a very small pool of patients,” Douglas explained. “All of this ‘best practice, evidence-based research’ is coming from a very select group of people.’ The whole thrust of this grant is to get research where the bulk of the work is happening, which happens to be places like Stephens Memorial Hospital.”

“The primary goal is to inform doctors on how to change what they’re doing in their practices,” Douglas added.

First step

The first step of the community engaged research was a June 19 symposium at the Paris Fire Station.

Douglas said that the symposium would be the first chance for patients, clinicians from Stephens Memorial Hospital, and researchers from Maine Medical Center to meet and discuss what topics they would like to research moving forward.

He added that Maine Medical Center is looking for “people who have some connection to Stephens Memorial Hospital.”

“We’re looking for patients, or family members of patients,” Douglas said. “It’s not just a county-wide, ‘come one, come all’ event. Whatever we decide to research, we’d like to see how the system is dealing with patients now, so in order to get that data, we need people connected to the hospital.”

Douglas clarified that the June 19 meeting was not about “decision-making.”

“Our first step is to build a functioning team that can learn how to work together to participate in all stages of the research process,” Douglas said. “Everyone has their ideas of what they’d like to work on. It’s the coming together and working cooperatively that is the first challenge.”

Douglas said that in the long run, the community-engaged research program will allow doctors at the hospital, along with patients and researchers in the area to learn more about what adjustments need to be made in treating patients and what is important to patients themselves.

“(Healthy Oxford Hills) bases all of our work on data, and there are a lot of different data sets out there,” Douglas said. “The opportunity to generate local data that we know correlates with our people directly is really exciting. I lit up like a Christmas tree when I found out we were participating in this.”

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