According to the World Health Organization (WHO) primary health care is a “highly effective and efficient way to address the main causes and risks of poor health and wellbeing today.” Yet for reasons that have been poorly explored, some of the populations that would benefit most from primary care face are far less likely to have a family doctor or nurse practitioner. Dr. Sheryl Spithoff is seeking to identify possible barriers to care, and how these might be addressed. She has a grant from the College of Family Physicians of Canada to explore access to care for people with opioid use disorder and is a co-investigator on a Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) grant that is assessing gaps in care for this population. She was a co-chair for Health Quality Ontario’s Quality Standard committees on Opioid Use Disorder and on Alcohol Use Disorder. She has also written about these topics in commentaries and in newspaper articles for Canadian media organizations.
Primary care itself is undergoing a major transformation. An increasing number of large corporations are purchasing primary care clinics and, since the start of the pandemic, investing in commercial virtual care platforms. These changes have major implications for the delivery and quality of health care in Canada. They may also have implications for patient privacy as some of the corporate players have stated that they intend to commercialize de-identified patient health data for clinical and commercial reasons. Potential harms include exposure of sensitive data; microtargeting for commercial or political gain; and the creation of algorithms that entrench societal biases and disadvantage marginalized groups.
Dr. Spithoff’s research seeks to understand the implications of these changes. She has grants from the Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada to explore the commercialization of health data in Canada. Her research will permit a deeper understanding of the social and economic systems that transform personal health information into commercial assets. It will assist research organizations, legal experts, policymakers and ethicists who are actively working to create frameworks for the use of health data. It may also assist marginalized groups in achieving greater control over their data.
- New Investigator Award, University of Toronto, Department of Community and Family Medicine, Toronto, Ontario (2019)
- Graduate Research Studies Award, University of Toronto, Department of Community and Family Medicine, Toronto, Ontario (2015)