Population Health Research: From Research to Practice and Policy

Posted November 30, 2023

A group of doctors talking to each other about holistic disease management for diabetes.

Over 50% of patients with diabetes develop complications, including cardiovascular diseases, kidney disease, and eye conditions. For Dr. Ye, these concerns motivated his urgency to study the impact of diabetes’ potential coexisting medical conditions, known as comorbidities, and holistic disease management for diabetes.

Population health data can be a guide, illuminating the path to innovative clinical advances and impactful policy decisions. When evaluating health research, measuring its potential to influence progress in the health field, clinically and policy-wise, is an important consideration. In doing so, we took a closer look at a study utilizing data from Alberta’s Tomorrow Project that investigates the impact of comorbidities on hospitalization and emergency room visits in adults with diabetes. We had the opportunity to talk to Dr. Ming Ye, lead author and Senior Research Associate at Alberta’s Tomorrow Project, about the paper’s public health, policy, and clinical implications.

Beyond Single Disease Management: A Holistic Approach to Diabetes Care

Considering comorbidities is critical to contextualize the effectiveness of health care delivery. Dr. Ye and colleagues’ publication evaluates comorbidities among patients with diabetes and its impact on health care utilization.

Single disease management targets diabetes directly but fails to recognize the multiple conditions associated with the disease and is not likely to meet all needs of care for diabetes compared with broad disease management programs. Dr. Ye advocates that diabetes should not be a single-management disease.

“We should consider all the complications that affect patients’ prognosis and quality of life”

Dr. Ming Ye

The broad disease management strategy provides health care professionals with a better roadmap for diabetes care that optimizes patient outcomes and addresses the economic and medical burden of disease.

This study finds both diabetes-related vascular diseases (e.g., cardiovascular diseases) and non-vascular conditions (e.g., depression) can be the drivers of increased hospital care and emergency room visits. The study’s results provide new evidence to support future clinical decisions and policymaking for health care, particularly in the care of those nonvascular comorbidities, such as fluid and electrolyte disorders and mental health conditions, which are often overlooked by the current guideline-related diabetes care.

Translating Research into Action: Implications for Policy and Practice

Dr. Ye encourages policymakers to examine the paper’s results in light of both clinical and economic applications. He emphasizes that hospital care and emergency room visits are the most costly and demanded health care sectors in diabetes care.

“If we look at their overall clinical pictures instead of just single disease management, we should be able to reduce avoidable costs and improve patients’ outcomes”

Dr. Ming Ye

To further understand and contextualize their findings, Dr. Ye hopes to implement “public health programs to enhance the quality of diabetes care using a multiple disease management approach.”

Advancing Population Health Research with CanPath

To appropriately translate research to policy and practice, considering the socioeconomic nuances related to health care utilization is necessary. At CanPath, our vision of a more diverse and equitable population health research sector is anchored by our 2023-27 Strategic Plan and our objective to expand the cohort by engaging more participants from underrepresented populations and identifying partners in regions yet to be included. 

Population health research is crucial in informing public health and policy decisions that improve patient outcomes and health care service delivery. CanPath strives to provide researchers with the tools to inspire meaningful change and innovation.

Publication Information: Ye, M., Vena, J. E., Johnson, J. A., Shen-Tu, G., Eurich, D. T. (2023) Impact of Comorbidity on Hospitalization and Emergency Room Visits in Adults With Diabetes: A Longitudinal Study of Alberta’s Tomorrow Project. Canadian Journal of Diabetes, 47(4), 359-367. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jcjd.2023.02.006