Dr. Karine Toupin-April’s first experiences with healthcare began as a patient. She has lived with asthma since she was a child and spent a great deal of time in emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, and with health care professionals. These experiences awakened an interest in healthcare, which led her to complete a bachelor’s degree in occupational therapy, and graduate and post-graduate studies in public health, epidemiology and community medicine.
Towards the completion of her training, she recalls one particular health crisis which left her wondering why she was struggling and she asked: “How can I better manage my condition?”. This insight sparked an interest in health research and motivated her to do her master’s degree. She originally wished to do a project on asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) but instead decided to work with a researcher who was studying juvenile arthritis (JA). “I realized that what I saw in kids with arthritis was similar to my own challenges with asthma.” Later, during her postdoctoral studies, Dr. Toupin-April became more familiar with shared decision making, a process in which health care providers and patients work together to make health decisions that are informed by the best evidence and by patients’ values and preferences. She immediately felt that this approach held great promise in helping patients make treatment decisions that would ultimately lead to the best health outcomes and self-management of their disease.
Dr. Toupin-April is now a Scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) Research Institute, where she works on a number of projects focused on shared decision making (click here to learn more). She is developing a decision aid in the form of a web application to support teens with JA and their parents in discussing and choosing treatments to address pain with their health care providers. Dr. Toupin-April notes “Health care providers don’t always discuss all available treatments to treat pain, like physical activities, massage and orthotics.” She is also leading the OMERACT (Outcome Measures in Rheumatology) working group on shared decision making, which aims to determine the outcomes to assess in rheumatology clinical trials of shared decision making approaches, such as decision aids.
Dr. Toupin-April notes that she was able to pursue research as a career in part because of support provided to her as a trainee. “Scholarships provided by the Canadian Arthritis Network (CAN) gave me a start in rheumatology research”. CAN was a research network with long-term funding to support arthritis research from 1998 to 2012. The Arthritis Society and The Canadian Rheumatology Association are also among the organizations which also actively support research in rheumatology.
Looking to the future, Dr. Toupin-April sees a future for personalized medicine, but notes that treatment decisions need consider patient preferences, a crucial element of shared decision making and patient-centred care. Dr. Toupin-April also notes that “Interprofessional collaboration is critical to supporting the best decisions, treatments and outcomes among patients.” She says that various health professionals such as rheumatologists, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, psychologists and dietitians need to be working and conducting research together to ensure patients achieve the best outcomes.
I have personally known Dr. Karine Toupin-April for close to 15 years. In many ways, we grew up together on different sides of the research team. I’m proud to work closely with her as a patient partner in research where she is a leader in engaging patients as true partners.