Patient navigation is a relatively new health service in Canada, but one that Nova Scotia nurse and patient navigation expert Sandra Cook says the system can’t afford to lose. More than 10 years ago, research showed that cancer patients didn’t know where to find information or how to get through the province’s complicated cancer care system, making the journey even more challenging.
So in 2001, Cook and her colleagues at Cancer Care Nova Scotia created their cancer patient navigator program (CPNP) to help patients throughout the entire care process, from diagnosis and treatment to follow-ups and supporting cancer survivors. CCNS found great success in the CPNP, noting its usefulness in assisting Aboriginals, immigrants, and people from rural and remote communities. A recent healthcare series in the Vancouver Sun found that patient navigators are improving healthcare access and experience in other jurisdictions that have adopted similar programs, including Aboriginals in British Columbia, and more patients in Regina, Sask., and Red Deer, Man.
Despite its benefits, patient navigation has yet to become a standardized service. Cook remains a strong advocate, saying that it isn’t a “frill” service, but a necessary one. She continues to offer consultation, give presentations on the CPNP, and was a major contributor to the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer’s patient navigation manual for medical professionals.
Julie Devaney, a Toronto-based health activist and writer, knows pain all too well. Initially diagnosed with ulcerative colitis (and later re-diagnosed with crohn’s disease), she spent almost six years undergoing intense medical therapy, leading to the removal of her large intestine and colon.
During her long recovery, Devaney wrote about her experiences in detail, including the pain of being referred to as “weepy” and the shock of seeing her colostomy bag for the first time. In 2006, Devaney’s writings became My Leaky Body, a play and workshop series that has travelled across Canada and reached as far as New York, Washington, and the UK. Aimed at healthcare providers, medical students, and general theatre-goers, My Leaky Body highlights pervasive issues in healthcare, shows what it’s like to be patient with a chronic illness, and encourages better understanding and communication between patients and healthcare providers.
In addition to running My Leaky Body, Devaney joined the Gateways to Cancer Screening Project (GCSP), which revealed through a participatory research study that disabled women face multiple barriers in cancer screening and therefore, higher rates of undetected cancer. Now, Devaney is the curriculum coordinator for GCSP and, with her colleagues, is preparing an educational intervention with medical professionals to improve the breast cancer screening access and experience for women with physical disabilities.
Photo credit: Nadia Cheema
It was her desire to create order out of chaos that inspired Paula Beard to become an advanced-care paramedic. “When I was with terribly ill or frightened patients and family, I came to understand that being present in someone’s most vulnerable moments in life is an incredible privilege,” says Beard.
Between her work as a paramedic and management positions with Saskatchewan Health and the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region, Beard has spent more than 15 years improving quality of care in those vulnerable moments, as well as patient safety. When Beard joined the Canadian Patient Safety Institute (CPSI), she was concerned about the patients who felt powerless when they were harmed by care that was meant to heal them. There was no standardized method for investigating, disclosing, or sharing information about accidental harm with medical professionals or the public. So the mistakes made in one hospital, such as confusing similarly named medications, weren’t always known in others, risking repetition of the mistakes.
In order to make sharing as easy as possible and to avoid burdening already overworked healthcare providers, Paula and her colleagues at the CPSI collected incident reports in one database. In February 2011, the CPSI launched Global Patient Alerts, a “Google-like” search engine of these reports, which includes recommendations on how patient harm can be avoided.