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Understanding our patients’ experiences to provide meaningful care: Q&A with Dr. Julie Robillard

May 17, 2018
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For Dr. Julie Robillard, “patient experience” encompasses everything from the treatments a patient receives, to how they access specialists and health information, to how they are engaged in their own care. It’s an area of research that examines how people interact with the health care system, with the goal of improving how hospitals deliver care in partnership with patients and families.

Dr. Robillard is the Scientist, Patient Experience, at BC Children’s Hospital and BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre, agencies of the Provincial Health Services Authority. In this new role, she collaborates with researchers and a wide range of care providers – including doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, social workers and more – to lead projects aimed at improving patient experience and furthering patient- and family-centered care.

An expert in patient engagement, health literacy and the evaluation of technology-based health care interventions, Dr. Robillard’s multi-disciplinary background includes a doctorate in Neuroscience and a post doctorate fellowship in neuroethics. She is an investigator at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute and assistant professor with the University of British Columbia’s Faculty of Medicine.

Below, she explains what’s she’s looking forward to in her new role, how she’ll be working to bring together ongoing research in this area and how she’ll integrate her own research into brain health technology.

Your title is “Scientist, Patient Experience.” What will you be doing in your new role?

I am thrilled to join the Patient Experience team at BC Children’s and BC Women’s. In my role as Scientist, my work aligns with both the research institute and with professional practice. I am leading a research program aimed at furthering our understanding of the patient experience on the Oak Street campus and beyond and translating this knowledge to provide meaningful care for patients and their families. For example, some of the questions I am asking include: How can we harness innovative methods to capture the patient experience at BC Children’s and BC Women’s? How does the patient experience impact health and quality of life outcomes? How can we use patient experience data to improve care delivery? I am also interested in measuring and improving health literacy, in particular through technology, as better-informed patients tend to have more positive health care experiences.

What are you looking forward to accomplishing?

There is already a lot of excellent research in patient experience at BC Children’s and BC Women’s. One of my goals is to create a resource that showcases this research landscape and creates opportunities for the researchers, patients, families and health care professionals involved in these initiatives to connect and learn from one another.   

Tell us more about your research. What are you currently working on?

In addition to my role as Scientist in Patient Experience, I have an appointment as Assistant Professor in Neurology at UBC, where my academic research is focused on brain health technology. My current work focuses on the development of tools for the evaluation of the quality, ethics and impact of technology for brain health conditions ranging from mental health to dementia. I am also investigating how artificial intelligence can help us design technology for brain health that is better aligned with users’ emotions. These lines of enquiries all inform my patient experience work, as technology is pervasive in the health care environment. Accessing high-quality technology resources or interventions is often an integral part of a positive patient experience.

How did you become interested in this?

During my PhD in neuroscience, I became interested in science communication, and I started writing a blog and becoming active on social media. Through these experiences, I realized that we now have new channels to gather information to make health-related decisions, but very little knowledge about the quality of this information and how it gets used. To start addressing these gaps, I did a postdoctoral fellowship in neuroethics, during which I explored the content, quality and ethics of online resources. This work laid the foundation of my research program on patient experience, which incorporates health literacy and emerging technologies. 

What is one thing people might be surprised to learn about you?

Though some of my work focuses on brain health, I can be a bit of a risk taker, and my favorite activity is mountain biking. That said, I take safety very seriously, and have a collection of five helmets to choose from when I go riding!