An aerial view of the University of Saskatchewan campus in Saskatoon. (Photo: University of Saskatchewan)

USask researchers receive SHRF funds for projects with a virtual focus

Virtual follow-up with discharged intensive-care patients and the development of culturally sensitive treatment for chronic musculoskeletal issues are just two of the 10 University of Saskatchewan (USask) research projects recently awarded funding from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF).

The grants were awarded as part of SHRF’s new Solutions Program that aims to mobilize the research community and its partners to focus and co-ordinate their diverse skills and perspectives to address timely Saskatchewan health challenges. The grants are awarded in two categories, impact and innovation, with a focus on virtual care. In all, USask received almost $680,000 for 10 projects.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us all to find new ways to work together safely and stay connected,” said Dr. Baljit Singh, USask vice-president research. “In that spirit of innovation, the research projects funded today through SHRF will help ensure patients and caregivers have access to health care and supports no matter where they live, or what other barriers they may face.”


  • Eric Sy (PhD), of the College of Medicine, was awarded $150,000 to evaluate the effectiveness of a distance-based intensive care unit (ICU) follow-up on patients discharged to their home. The creation and piloting of a virtual health ICU follow-up clinic in Regina will take the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic into context.
  • Ensuring northern Indigenous residents have access to treatment for chronic musculoskeletal issues using virtual technology is the focus of work by Dr. Stacey Lovo (PhD) of the College of Medicine. Funded with almost $150,000 from SHRF, researchers will collaborate with the communities of Pelican Narrows, La Loche and Waterhen Lake.


  • Tracie Risling (PhD) and Dr. Don Leidl (EdD) in the College of Nursing will examine creating virtual reality tools to help both patients and practitioners deal with chronic kidney care with a grant of approximately $43,000. Saskatchewan patients wait an average of 2.8 years for a kidney transplant, creating mental and physical burdens that must be addressed.
  • In the College of Nursing, Dr. Noelle Rohatinsky (PhD) and Juan-Nicolas Pena-Sanchez (PhD) of the College of Medicine were awarded $47,000 to study virtual care experiences of individuals with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and gastroenterologist providers. It is hoped that virtual care can enhance access to services for persons with IBD while decreasing direct costs to the health-care system and to patients.
  • Corey Tomczak (PhD) of the College of Kinesiology will study the effectiveness of a home-based, virtual handgrip exercise program for adolescents and young adults with congenital heart disease. The project was awarded $50,000.
  • An award of $44,000 will go to Dr. Laureen McIntyre (PhD) from the College of Education to examine the perceptions and experiences of health and education-based speech-language pathologists and audiologists as they provide both in-person and telepractice services to children in Saskatchewan.
  • Jonathan Gamble (MD) and a team in the College of Medicine will develop a pilot project aimed at increasing access to high-quality, virtual multidisciplinary preoperative assessment in Saskatchewan. This research, awarded just under $50,000, could potentially reduce time and travel-related cost for some of the 10,000 patients who are assessed each year, especially those from rural and remote areas.
  • Communication in ICUs is always challenging, and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Drs.Sabira Valiani (MD), Jennifer O'Brien (PhD), Cari McIlduff (PhD), and Carrie Bourassa (PhD) of the College of Medicine, along with Dr. Salima Suleman (PhD) and the Connect-ICU team, were awarded almost $46,000 to engage diverse stakeholders and discover how communication technology can facilitate patient and family-centered care, encourage meaningful communication, and build therapeutic relationships in the ICU.

Two projects on dementia were co-funded by SHRF and the Alzheimer Society of Saskatchewan. Both organizations provided almost $50,000 each for the two projects:

  • Megan O’Connell (PhD) of the College of Arts and Science will study the effectiveness of virtual, culturally safe support groups for caregivers of Indigenous people living with dementia. Co-led by a neuropsychologist or social worker, the groups will share what they have learned through their experiences, and have access to expert information.
  • During the pandemic, caregivers of people with dementia in rural and remote Indigenous communities have experienced great strain. Dr. Gary Groot (PhD) of the College of Medicine will study how providing tablet devices and internet service to caregivers can improve access to support for caregivers, and thus the quality of care received by patients.

In all, SHRF announced more than $1 million to support Saskatchewan-based interdisciplinary research teams to develop, implement and evaluate virtual care approaches to many of the health challenges the province faces.

Full details, including team members, project summaries, etc., are listed in a searchable database at shrf.ca/results.


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