The input of everyday Albertans made a difference

By Nancy Walter

A year ago, IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health completed a project in which we had an in-depth conversation with 28 Albertans over the course of several months on two topics that were top of mind to Alberta Health (government ministry responsible for health). The purpose of the project was to inform future steps as the government considered ways to promote improvements in first line care provided to Albertans in their communities. The advice given by IMAGINE Citizens as a result of this project has had important influence in how we talk about care in the province.

With the support of researchers at the O’Brien Institute for Public Health and our IMAGINE Citizens project team, the 28 people from around the province learned about the evidence supporting the topics under discussion. After many hours of online and in-person discussions, the group developed an understanding of the directions being proposed and what the goals of these changes were. With this understanding, the group made clear recommendations to Alberta Health about how to speak about community-based care. The recommendations were quite different from the directions originally envisioned. “Continuity of care” became the central theme and aspiration for care. Although participants rarely used the term “continuity of care” the desire and need for it was clear.

Continuity of care means all the people who are involved in our health care work together well. The factors that help make this happen are shown in the graphic. Over the course of several months, key agencies in the province considered this advice and, after getting further input from many more Albertans that were involved with (an online forum hosted by the Alberta Medical Association), three important entities in the province agreed to share consistent messages that supported directions that help to achieve continuity of care. Alberta Health (government ministry), Alberta Health Services (delivers health services), and the Alberta Medical Association (doctors’ association) agreed to use common messages.  They have developed a series of posters that highlight the benefits of having continuity of care.

Continuity means you have an ongoing and trusting relationship with your family doctor or nurse practitioner and team. Your health information is shared between care providers and all those who help you be healthy work together well.

It also means your health care providers know you, your family situation and your medical history, thereby reducing the number of times you have to tell your story or undergo duplicate tests.

The posters use simple language and diverse images of real people to convey clear messages:

  1. My doctor and health team connect me to the care I need.
  2. My doctor and health team know my story.
  3. My doctor and health team know my family.

Have you seen these posters in your doctor’s clinic?

Continuity of care is important. It is also important for us as patients to be partners in our care. After all, the patient (you or I) is the only person who is present in every health care interaction.

In our report, Albertans expressed the desire and need for continuity of care. The benefit for continuity is also supported by evidence. Studies have shown that continuity of care results in many benefits, including improved health and health care quality, patient satisfaction, cost savings and even reduced mortality.

As Albertans we can help with continuity of care by staying with one regular family doctor or nurse practitioner and working in close partnership with them to support our own goals. Good health helps us live the lives we want.

IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health exists to educate and inform Albertans with the goals of improved health care experiences and outcomes for all Albertans and the improved sustainability of Alberta’s health system. If you would like to learn more, or become involved with IMAGINE Citizens, please be in touch through the “Reply” box below.

About the Author

Nancy is Co-chair of the IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health Communications Working Group and is a registered Medical Laboratory Technologist with a Bachelor of Science degree with distinction in Medical Laboratory Sciences, University of Alberta.

She is connected with the Association in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) Certified in Infection Control (CIC), and most recently worked as a Provincial Project Manager with the Surgery Strategic Clinical Network. Nancy’s desire is to improve healthcare by designing the system for Albertans with Albertans using a human centered design approach. Improving the system requires empowering Albertans through engagement and knowledge building.