Graduate evaluates health technologies to improve care

"At the end of the day my job is to ensure we are getting good value for our money, whether it is introducing a new drug, disinvesting in an old one or examining new diagnostic equipment," says Sean Tiggelaar (MSc '16).

Rachel Harper - 15 June 2016

We live in a world where oversaturation is common and an abundance of choices exist. New, breakthrough medical technologies are no different. So, how do we sift out the good from the very good? How do we ensure we are getting the most value for our dollar? How do we make the best decisions for society as a whole?

Recent graduate Sean Tiggelaar helps answers questions like these and more on a daily basis.

Welcome to the world of health technology assessment (HTA).

"Our job is to bridge the gap between researchers and policy-makers," explains Tiggelaar (MSc '16).

"Through research and evaluation, we help inform policy-makers what pharmaceuticals or health technologies are relevant, clinically effective and cost effective. This means decisions are being made in the best interest of Canadians, and in turn, the public gets the most value for their dollar."

But this wasn't a career that Tiggelaar always saw himself having. In fact, he didn't even know it existed.

"I had taken a health economics course in my undergraduate studies, and I found the combination of business and health science to be really fascinating," says Tiggelaar. "I began speaking to people in the pharmaceutical industry to become more informed on potential careers or graduate programs. Someone recommended looking into health technology assessment."

Tiggelaar began looking into several HTA programs in Canada, but the School of Public Health stood out to him.

"I was able to reach out to my future supervisor, Arto Ohinmaa, and speak directly to him about the program," says Tiggelaar.

"I quickly realized that the School was unique because it is home to the Health Technology and Policy Unit. In addition, Arto is extremely well connected to international research groups and local health economic leaders like the Institute of Health Economics. This provided me with a rare opportunity to work with groups across Canada, and internationally. I knew it was the right program and school for me."

"I knew finding exactly what I wanted was going to be a challenge, but I was passionate about what I was learning, so I was willing to take a risk."

Tiggelaar learned to think outside the box and be creative when searching for jobs. He formed connections with people inside the field and with his mentors Arto Ohinmaa and Tania Stafinski, director of the Health Technology and Policy Unit. He was able to receive guidance and tips for his job search and soon landed a position as a health economist with Analysis Group in Montreal, Quebec.

There, he develops studies that compare and evaluate how well medical treatments improve health outcomes and costs. He is also involved with writing a book on cost effectiveness research. It will help provide information not only to policy-makers and the pharmaceutical industry, but also to the general public, so everyone can better understand how health technologies are reviewed and researched.

"Decision makers are often under budgetary constraints," says Tiggelaar. "If we can demonstrate cost savings, then that money can be invested in new technologies or pharmaceuticals that can either extend lives or affect more lives. This can have a radical impact on the health of the population."

"At the end of the day, my job is to ensure we are getting good value for our money, whether it is spent introducing a new drug, disinvesting in an old one, or examining new diagnostic equipment such as a new MRI machine."

Sean and Bernice Tiggelaar were proudly welcomed as new alumni of the School of Public Health, alongside 46 of their classmates in the Class of Spring 2016 on Wednesday, June 8. Bernice graduated with her master of public health in global health and Sean graduated with his master of science in health technology assessment. The couple that studies together, graduates together. Congratulations to the Class of Spring '16.