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Family practice is the first point of contact for patients and where much of care in Canada is coordinated. Yet relatively little primary care research has been done at this level: in fact, there are far more unanswered than answered questions when it comes to determining what’s working and for whom in Canada’s primary care system.

The University of Toronto Practice-Based Research Network (UTOPIAN) is a network of over 1400 family physicians in practices within the 14 DFCM academic sites throughout the GTA and beyond that aims to change this. The network brings together DFCM researchers, primary care clinicians and practices from all its academic sites to answer important healthcare questions and translate findings into practice.

Established in 2013, UTOPIAN aims to:

  • Conduct and support high quality research to better serve the primary care community and patient population
  • Improve the quality and cost-effectiveness of services offered by the healthcare system
  • Secure lasting improvements to health nationally and internationally

UTOPIAN Overview

UTOPIAN is engaged in variety of activities including:

  • evaluation of our healthcare system
  • quality improvement activities
  • identification of potential study subjects for clinical research
  • patient recruitment to longitudinal cohort studies such as the Ontario Health Study
  • full range of clinical research including clinical trials

UTOPIAN is one of the largest and most representative primary care research networks in North America, and amongst the largest in the world.

This is a bold initiative that has important implications for improving the health of patients in UTOPIAN practices, producing internationally relevant clinical research.

Data Safe Haven

Using Electronic Medical Records (EMRs), UTOPIAN can access de-identified patient data from contributing practices to examine clinical information that is not readily available anywhere else (e.g. medication duration, dose and frequency; lifestyle information such as smoking, exercise, and diet, etc.). EMRs provide a comprehensive set of longitudinal patient health data and are a unique resource for medical research that is relevant to the reality of healthcare in Ontario and generalizable to patients internationally. EMRs are available through the UTOPIAN Data Safe Haven.

UTOPIAN Governance Structure

UTOPIAN is overseen by two committees: Executive and Scientific Advisory Committee. Both committees sit bi-monthly to make important decision about UTOPIAN.

The Executive Committee is responsible for operational, strategic and “high level” decisions, taking into account DFCM, FoM and UofT strategic plans and interests, and also interests and needs of provincial and national stakeholders. Members of the Executive Committee are: UTOPIAN Director, DFCM Chair, DFCM Vice-Chair Research, 2 FMTU chiefs (one downtown and one community site), 2 EMR data representatives (one for CPCSSN and one for EMRALD/ICES).

The  Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) is responsible for scientific decisions about projects and initiatives, and for facilitating projects within particular sites. Main members of the SAC are 14 representatives of the sites; others include key members of DFCM programs and since September 2016 also three patient and community members. This reflects our commitment to patient-centred care and enables us to be more responsive to patients’ needs. UTOPIAN is giving patients an active role in project selection and other agenda items, they provide meaningful public input info all UTOPIAN activities.

Patient representatives are coming from varied backgrounds including Managing Editor of three peer-reviewed professional journals (published by Canadian Dental, Dietetic and Physiotherapy Associations); Health Care Communications specialist. The common theme was the strong interest to get involved in research.  

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