Published February 7, 2018
A unique partnership between two BTC partners is closing the gap between medical research and practice.
Clinical and behavioral scientists in the Buffalo Translational Consortium (BTC) gained a powerful new tool for recruiting participants last November with the opening of the UB Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Research Table in the UBMD Outpatient Center waiting room on the fourth floor of the Conventus building.
The Outpatient Center now houses nine of the 12 UBMD practice plans that will eventually make their home in the center. UBMD, which is the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences physicians’ group, consists of a total of 18 practice plans.
Patients arriving to see their doctors are invited to peruse the literature from up to 25 clinical and behavioral studies currently recruiting volunteers as they wait for their appointment. A patient ambassador is on hand a few days a week to answer questions and refer patients who might be interested in joining a study to the research coordinator or principal investigator associated with the project.
Visitors can also sign up for the Buffalo Research Registry, a growing database of potential patient volunteers in Western New York who want to learn more about research projects that match their interests and needs.
“The Research Table is a great way for us to connect with patients and talk with them about research,” said Danielle Abramo-Balling, community recruitment liaison for the CTSI’s Community Engagement team. “Many patients don’t understand the importance of their role when it comes to research, so this gives us a chance to have that conversation with them while they wait for their doctor’s appointment.”
Kathie Crocker is one of the CTSI patient ambassadors who staff the table Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. She’s a member of the Patient Voices Network, whose vision is to “create a community of educated and involved patients working hand in hand with physicians in making decisions about their own health care.” Members often serve as a link between the University at Buffalo’s CTSI and the larger Western New York community.
To her, clinical research isn’t just about being “poked and prodded” in an exam room, it means completing surveys and joining focus groups and, in general, gaining a better understanding of one’s health through communication with the experts.
But communication is a two-way street, and so she sees the table as a way to channel feedback from potential research participants to investigators. “My goal is to help my fellow patients,” she said, “but if that in turn benefits the researchers or the doctors, that’s a plus for me.”
A community survey conducted by the Community Engagement team in 2016 was instrumental in getting the table project off the ground in the first place. The survey, completed by 154 community members at local events, found that 65 percent of respondents wanted to hear more about research happening in Western New York from their physician, but just 13 percent said their doctor had actually discussed research with them. That gave CTSI Director Timothy Murphy, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of Medicine, and his team incentive to start looking for ways to partner with UBMD in order to strengthen the bonds between medical practice and research.
The result is a unique partnership between the two BTC partners. Sanjay Sethi, MD, one of the CTSI’s core directors, recognized an opportunity for greater cooperation on patient recruitment when the UBMD practice plans started coming together for the first time under one roof. The practices began moving to the fourth floor of the Conventus Building in the spring of 2017.
“Research shows that patients who participate in clinical studies are more satisfied with their health care and typically enjoy better health outcomes,” said Sethi. “This is particularly true for under-represented, socioeconomically disadvantaged and ethnic minority groups, so we’re glad to be able to connect them with research projects that may be of benefit to them.”
Sethi, Division Chief of Pulmonology, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine for both UBMD Internal Medicine and the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Assistant Vice President for Health Sciences, reached out to UBMD officials to see what it would take to add a research table to the waiting room. Teresa Quattrin, MD, UB Distinguished Professor and Senior Associate Dean for Research Integration, who was then chair of the Department of Pediatrics, and Michael Chaskes, MD, from the Department of Medicine, who is vice chair for Clinical Operations and Outreach and the medical director of Outpatient Cardiology at UB and UBMD Internal Medicine, championed the proposal and helped make it a reality.
Patricia Nowak, Conventus operations director for UBMD, and Megan Veirs, marketing communications specialist for UBMD, coordinate with Abramo-Balling to ensure the effectiveness of the table for both the patient and the investigators.
“Our priority is the patient experience,” Nowak said. “This table provides our patients with another way to engage in their health, while having a larger impact on this community. As our largest location, there is an immense opportunity for patients to review the current research studies that are happening right here in this city, perhaps by their own provider.”
“The table was an ideal next-step to showcase to our patients that there is more available beyond their visit with us,” Veirs said. “All UBMD physicians are faculty members in the Jacobs School — teaching the next generation of doctors and conducting research, advancing health care locally, nationally and internationally — and our patients can be a part of that, whether it’s through research conducted by our physicians or by other researchers at the University at Buffalo.”
After working with UBMD, Abramo-Balling gathered the informational materials from participating principal investigators, scheduled the patient ambassadors, set up the table itself, and worked out a method for integrating the table with the day-to-day operations of the UBMD floor.
In the first two months of operation, about 400 pieces of research literature were distributed. Patient ambassadors also give out copies of “Sofia Learns About Research,” a children’s educational activity book published by the CTSI Special Populations core to help take the mystery out of participating in clinical studies for families.
Only research currently approved by the Institutional Review Board (IRB) is promoted, using IRB-approved materials. Investigators who would like to have their studies included in the CTSI Research Table can contact CTSI Community Recruitment Liaison Danielle Abramo-Balling at 716-816-7298 or by email.