Access to health information driving force behind PhD grad

Melita Avdagovska (PhD ‘20) is using her public health education to empower and engage Albertans.

A passion to ensure all Albertans can access their medical information drove Melita Avdagovska to pursue her Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Health Services and Policy Research at the School of Public Health.

Avdagovska’s interest in health technology was piqued when she started accessing her own health records online. Although she was thrilled as she could directly message her healthcare provider and view test results, she quickly realized access to the system was extremely limited.

“As a mother, I couldn’t access my children’s information. Most of my friends and family had never heard of an online health information portal,” said Avdagovska. “I was taking advantage of a great system and I could see the benefits as a mother and as an Albertan. I wanted to know why very few patients accessed the system and how I could contribute toward improving access for all Albertans.”

At that time Avdagovska was considering undertaking a PhD and knew this would be an area of study that could have a positive impact on her community.

“When I was deciding where to do my PhD, I explored different faculties, but none fit my goal of improving community like the School of Public Health. Health information technologies are for all patients,” said Avdagovska. “Public health education gave me the tools to empower communities and individuals to live healthier lives.”

As Avdagovska started exploring the topic, Alberta Health Services was looking to learn why the service is underutilized. “I was immediately immersed in this School of Public Health, Alberta Health Services, Alberta Health triad of research in order to explore a real time implementation and evaluation of the system,” said Avdagovska. “It was exciting to uncover a story on how Alberta went from not a place with no health information technology system to having a system and figuring out how to improve uptake.”

Avdagovska found that real-time access to health records had been intertwined with concerns about privacy and the perceived inability of patients to understand the information in their records. These conflicting views warranted a comprehensive inquiry into the apprehension around implementation and adoption of patient portals. “It is no longer if these technologies should be implemented, but the conversation is about how it should be done successfully.”

Through her research, Avdagovska determined ways to help Alberta move the system forward and was able to publish several papers.

“My studies showed what has been done and what needs to be done in order for Alberta to fulfil its goal in providing citizens with access to their medical record and providing opportunities for patient engagement and patient empowerment,” said Avdagovska. “Health information technology is disruptive in the healthcare system, so there is resistance. My research showed it is not about just providing the technology, but about having people understand the benefit and how it can improve their health.”

Thanks to Avdagovska’s 4.0 GPA and research achievements, she was the recipient of many awards at the nexus of excellence in public health, technology and health systems innovation throughout her PhD. Advagovska received the School of Public Health Doctoral Scholarship, School of Public Health 10th Anniversary Graduate Award, Charles WB Gravett Memorial Scholarship, CIHR Health System Impact Fellowship, and Alberta Innovates Graduate Student Scholarship.

Now that she has graduated, Avdagovska is working in the School of Public Health’s Health Technology and Policy Unit as a research associate.

“I think there are still opportunities for me to learn. I want to continue to work and get every single Albertan to access their medical records,” Avdagovska remarked. “Public Health provides an understanding of the push and pull forces that guide policy development in order to be able to deliver population changes more effectively. It is the perfect place to engage patient empowerment through technology.”

According to Avdagovska, the ability to quickly access medical records may be more important now than ever.

“Right now, if you go for COVID-19 testing, you are waiting for a phone call to get your results. If you have access to your records you can get that information more quickly. It’s a wonderful tool.”


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