Nova Scotia Health’s implementation science team accelerating rapid reviews for health system decision making

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges for all Nova Scotians, including those responsible for pandemic planning and policy-setting.

With policies and practices frequently changing due to quickly evolving information, there was an increased need to rapidly collect and synthesize emerging COVID-19 evidence.

Nova Scotia Health’s Implementation Science team, as part of the organization’s Health Innovation Hub, mobilized quickly to lead the creation of rapid reviews to inform best practice evidence, policy direction and practice improvements, with the overall goal to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of Nova Scotians.

In the research community, rapid reviews are known as a form of evidence synthesis. Evidence synthesis is a research method where researchers rapidly collect, review and validate all of the available relevant information on a research question.

The rapid reviews conducted at Nova Scotia Health have adapted further to become even more relevant to local needs and key policy improvement questions. By including jurisdictional scans, key informant interviews and process mapping of current states, these rapid reviews have become even more valuable.

While rapid reviews have always been a standard part of the Implementation Science team portfolio, the pandemic created an unprecedented and urgent need for an even higher volume of work.

Since March 2020, the team has received over 282 requests for rapid reviews. Approximately 142 of those requests have been COVID-19 related, and the remainder have been non-COVID-19 related requests.

“Throughout the pandemic, rapid reviews have been conducted based on requests from the organization’s Emergency Operations Centre, Executive Leadership team, and various working groups that have been established to address priority needs during COVID-19,” said Dr. Tara Sampalli, Senior Scientific Director, Nova Scotia Health.

Rapid reviews quickly became more important than ever before, in order to support decision-makers and frontline staff daily with the evidence they needed to mitigate the impact of the virus.

“Sometimes these rapid reviews need to be delivered within a 24-hour turnaround time to support the urgent needs of policy and decision-makers.”

Over the past two years, the Implementation Science team has completed rapid reviews on topics related to the pandemic such as public health response, infection control practices, long-term care, personal protective equipment, virtual care, vaccine efficacy and hesitancy, working with vulnerable populations, the safety of the workforce, patient engagement, and more.

In addition to supporting planning and decision-making considerations for COVID-19, rapid reviews are supporting a variety of priority issues and planning considerations across the province, including access and flow of health care, service frameworks, rural health planning, virtual care implementations and digital health solutions, and many more.

As new evidence and updates emerge on a particular subject, rapid reviews are updated appropriately.

The information and evidence that is collected for rapid reviews is pulled from diverse, reputable sources including systematic reviews, commentaries, credible and relevant organizational websites, and credible media sites.

The success and impact of Nova Scotia Health’s Implementation Science team has garnered attention from other research institutions across the country. In June 2021, researchers at McMaster University published an article that evaluated the positive impact that the team’s evidence-informed decision-making is having on health system transformation in Nova Scotia.

The authors from McMaster University concluded that rapid reviews have not only been instrumental in supporting the dynamic and successful COVID-19 responses in Nova Scotia, but they will continue as a crucial part of decision-making well beyond the pandemic.

“We’re engaging key partners in our health system, provincial, national and international leaders and – most importantly – our patients, their families and communities,” said Dr. Sampalli. “Together, we are using best practice evidence to transform healthcare capacity in Nova Scotia.”

To view the COVID-19 rapid reviews completed by the Nova Scotia Health team, visit