Dr. Andrea Furlan

MD, Physiatry, University of São Paulo
PhD, Clinical Epidemiology, University of Toronto

Dr. Andrea Furlan first connected with the Institute for Work & Health long distance, from her hometown of São Paolo, Brazil.

Furlan was a resident in physical medicine and rehabilitation (physiatry) when she met the founding chair of IWH’s Scientific Advisory Committee, Dr. Alf Nachemson. He, in turn, introduced her to Senior Scientist Dr. Claire Bombardier, who would later become her PhD supervisor.

“When I arrived in Canada, I was so fortunate,” says Furlan. “Doors were opened to me by two wonderful people who saw potential in me – Claire and Dr. Angela Mailis-Gagnon [director of the Comprehensive Pain Program at Toronto’s University Health Network]. They guided me and mentored me.”

Furlan says it was actually her husband, not her, who wanted to emigrate to Canada. But since arriving in 1997, she has shown great dedication in pursuing opportunities that weren’t as readily available at home. “In Brazil, there was no funding, personnel or training for research in physiatry,” she says.

At IWH, Furlan began volunteering with the Cochrane Back Review Group (now called Cochrane Back and Neck), and was hired as a coordinator in 1998. She also began her master’s degree, followed by a doctorate in clinical epidemiology from the University of Toronto, which she completed in 2006. Then, after her PhD, she completed a clinical fellowship at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute (TRI) to practice medicine in Canada.

These days, she spends about 80 per cent of her time as a researcher and 20 per cent as a clinician, working at IWH and TRI.,“The clinical work maintains the relevance of what I do, as well as credibility among my medical peers,” she says.

For the sake of her research, she also feels it is important to maintain a connection with IWH, because of the support from colleagues, the challenging environment and the quality of the science. “It forces you to become an excellent researcher,” she says.

Furlan's current research focus includes the treatment of chronic pain. In 2008, she led the research team that developed the Canadian Guideline for Safe and Effective Use of Opioids for Chronic Non-Cancer Pain by the National Opioid Use Guideline Group, and is now involved with its dissemination and implementation across Canada. She also developed the Opioid Manager, a point-of-care tool for physicians using opioids for chronic pain. More recently, she led the IWH-based research team that provided the evidence behind five of nine recommendations in the World Health Organization's 2017 report Rehabilitation in health services, which aims to improve rehabilitation services around the world, especially in low- and middle-income countries.

Furlan continues her involvement with the Cochrane Back and Neck, where she is now one of its two co-ordinating editors (along with Dr. Maurits Van Tulder, an IWH adjunct scientist).

And recognizing the need to increase research capacity for physiatry in Brazil, she is in regular contact with colleagues there, involving them in her research projects or visiting to lecture and present at conferences.

Current projects: 

Central nervous system agents and the risk of workplace injury and death: a systematic review of the literature

Cochrane Back and Neck: Systematic reviews of the scientific literature on spinal disorders

Systematic reviews, meta-analyses and clinical practice guidelines of opioids for chronic non-cancer pain

Knowledge translation to physicians and general public

Methodological developments in systematic reviews

Selected Publications: 

Furlan AD, Murphy L. A 46-year-old man with acute low-back pain.Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2016; 188(6):441-442

Furlan AD, Baskwill A, Imamura M. Massage for low-back pain (review). Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2015; (9)

Furlan AD, Malmivaara A, Chou R, Maher CG, Deyo RA, Schoene M. 2015 updated method guideline for systematic reviews in the Cochrane back and neck group. Spine, 2015; 40(21):1660-1673

Furlan AD, Irvin E, Kim J, Van Eerd D, Carnide N, Munhall C. Impact of long-term opioid use for chronic non-cancer pain on misuse, abuse or addiction, overdose, falls and fractures. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2014; (4)

Furlan AD, MacDougall P, Pellerin D, Shaw K, Spitzig D, Wilson G, Wright J. Overview of four prescription monitoring/review programs in Canada. Pain Research & Management, 2014; 19(2):102-106

Furlan AD, Reardon R, Weppler C, National Opioid Use Guideline Group. Opioids for chronic noncancer pain: A new Canadian practice guideline. Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2010; 182(9):923-930. doi: 10.1503/cmaj.100187