Picture of Robyn TamblynRobyn Tamblyn is Scientific Director at the Institute of Health Services and Policy Research, Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), and Professor in the Department of Medicine and Department of Epidemiology & Biostatistics at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine, in Canada


In our modern world, ‘next gen’ releases of technological devices and apps seem to come along before we have even figured out the previous version. We have a new generation of communication, new systems of tracking information and a new level of data availability.

Our healthcare system, accessed by millions of Canadians each day, has also entered a new generation as it produces trillions of bits information that could be harnessed to understand the comparative effectiveness of different treatments, the causes of potentially avoidable adverse events, unnecessary costs and missed opportunities for prevention, and to improve patient experience. But to this point, we have not really been able to use this information to produce knowledge on how we can do better. In order to do so we need a ‘next gen’ health system.

In the United States, a major initiative is gaining momentum to create ‘learning health systems’ – intelligent, dynamic, accountable care organizations that use their data to guide improvements in care. Collaboration across all health borders is critical to the learning health system in order drive system-wide efficiency and effectiveness.

Learning health systems need ‘next gen’ leaders – scientists, clinicians and decision makers that can address the many challenges we will face as we move the health system of today to a learning system of tomorrow. They will need to nurture the ability of a health system to experiment with innovation, learn from failure and scale up success.

To achieve this vision, we need to train and fund the ‘next gen’ scientists that will provide scientific leadership in a learning health system. Classic training approaches do not necessarily provide the skill set that will be required. They will need to be able to partner with clinical and policy leadership to identify research priorities. They’ll need to develop new methods for rapid and nimble scientific investigation using social data, digital health data and point of care patient experience. They’ll need to collaborate on the most effective use of emerging knowledge for clinical and policy decisions and then implement and evaluate innovative solutions.

Editor’s note: This is the sixth in a series of 8 blogs about international collaboration in strengthening primary care research, ahead of the #SAPCASM2016 conference in Dublin, Ireland