The iKNOW Health program builds health literacy, knowledge, skills and confidence so people can better navigate and advocate for themselves when using Alberta’s health information and services.
Knowing how to navigate our healthcare system independently, and with system support when needed, is important to getting the quality of care we want.
iKNOW Health began in 2016 when, during community engagement sessions, Imagine Citizens Network and others heard that people had many questions about health care in Alberta.
ICN partnered with members of the public, health leaders from Alberta’s Strategic Clinical Networks, the Health Quality Council of Alberta and other patient-partnered organizations to build ways to help people in Alberta understand how healthcare works, how to navigate and advocate for themselves, and how to apply their rights. An early product of this work is the online guide: Healthcare 101: Healthcare Basics for Albertans.
iKNOW Health & the problem of navigating our healthcare system
Navigation involves a lot of things including:
- finding information and services when needed,
- communicating with healthcare providers to make informed decisions about care needs, and
- using digital health tools in ways that support one’s health.
An inability to navigate can have negative impacts on the care people receive and on their experiences with providers, organizations and the healthcare system as a whole.
Navigation challenges are more pronounced in newcomer and ethnocultural communities, marginalized communities, and rural and remote communities. Challenges also arise during transitions, when managing chronic illness or disability, or in personal or public crises like the current pandemic.
Navigation supports are provided by ‘the system,’ however are not enough to build the knowledge and skills people need to independently navigate the system.
Many navigation supports are specific to an in- or outpatient service, clinic, health condition, life stage or disease state. They are for a point-in-time navigation and include:
- in-person Patient Navigators like the Alberta Cancer Patient Navigator Program,
- web-based portals like www.MyHealth.Alberta.ca, and
- phone-based information services like HealthLink-811 or Mental Health Help Line.
Systems-led point-in-time navigation is different than independent, citizen-led navigation which is about having the knowledge to manage your health journey over your lifetime. This ‘independent navigation’ means having the ability, confidence, and preparedness to use knowledge and other tools and supports (e.g., access to transportation, technology, and other resources) to find and use health information and services.
ICN strongly believes that by building people’s health and digital health literacy, we can narrow the gap between system-provided navigation supports and people’s ability to navigate and advocate more independently, which also supports our rights as Canadians and Albertans.
Independent does not mean you are on your own. It means that you do not have to depend on someone.
Instead, you know when and how you can do things on your own AND when and how to ask for help.
We partner with healthcare and community-based organizations
Imagine Citizens Network, along with the Strategic Clinical Networks and Innovation, Impact and Evidence Team within Alberta Health Services are the lead partners in the current phase of the iKNOW Health program. A diverse task force and community partnerships are being established to develop and implement social and technological innovations to build health and digital health literacy and support independent navigation and advocacy.
The task force and working groups includes Patient & Family Advisors and individuals from community-based organizations such as ActionDignity, Alberta International Medical Graduates Association, and the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights. Half of our task force members are volunteers with lived health experiences.
We’re building an Alberta network of Community Health Ambassadors
Imagine Citizens Network, iKNOW Health partners and others are working toward introducing a trusted network of Alberta Community Health Ambassadors.
Community Health Ambassadors will work with people and communities to identify health navigation and advocacy challenges, share information, and listen to what Albertans are saying about the issues they’re facing.
Community Health Ambassadors are people who are respected and trusted and act as connectors within their communities. Ambassadors build community capacity to engage and manage personal and family health concerns and interactions with health organizations. Ambassadors also listen to ideas for change and innovation from the lived experiences of people in their own community. These ideas are then shared with organizations and partners who can influence change in the healthcare system.
Imagine Citizens Network is in the early stages of planning this network of Ambassadors. Initially our focus will be on rural and ethnocultural/marginalized communities where people face multiple challenges and barriers to accessing health information and services.
We need new ways to build trust and resolve the systemic barriers and challenges that negatively impact people’s ability to be healthy and interact with our health system. The traditional approach is not informed by what people know will work in local communities. It is a health system-led, expert-informed model that involves organizations working in silos. We envision, ultimately, a network of Community Health Ambassadors and partnering organizations working together to influence citizen-informed change and innovation in Alberta’s health organizations and system.
Our Partners & Collaborators
Alberta Health Services has supported the iKNOW Health work from its inception. From funding roles that have allowed this work to go forward, to supporting innovation thinking and connections, to connecting us with patient advocates and others, we are incredibly grateful for their support.
We are additionally grateful for the support of the Calgary Health Foundation to enable ICN and Alberta Health Services to enable a joint hiring process of our project manager. Entering our second year, we are proud to acknowledge the Calgary Health Foundation’s leadership for this funding at a critical point in the project’s development of community capacity.
Thank you to MyHealthAlberta.ca staff for the work to host the online guide Healthcare Basics for Albertans.
We also thank the following partners for their ongoing membership and involvement on our task force.
We welcome community partners who are connected and working on the ground directly with people in communities to join us. If you’re interested, please contact us.
Additionally, the following partners were involved in the early days of the iKNOW Health Program.