Making Connections and Building Momentum for Improving Health Care in Alberta

Improving health care is more effective when citizens act together. IMAGINE’s April networking event in Calgary aimed at increasing collaboration. Over 40 people learned of our activities as well as participated in discussions about IMAGINE and how they could contribute to the organization.

IMAGINE Citizens Collaborating for Health (IMAGINE) has done an amazing amount of work in its brief existence. This was highlighted at our first networking event on April 28 at the Calgary Winter Club, attended by over 40 participants – health care workers, administrators, decision-makers and other citizens with diverse backgrounds.

They came to hear about IMAGINE’s activities and to speak with table discussion leaders, exploring our activities in greater depth and discovering how they might contribute to the organization.

Judy Birdsell, Co-chair of IMAGINE, described the vision and mission of this a diverse group of Alberta citizens who have joined voices to help improve the provincial health-care system. She outlined four areas of focus: citizen participation, health results that matter, health system partnerships and research and experience.

The group also heard about our initiatives and opportunities for involvement, from communication to consultation and collaboration.

Digital Health

Judy Birdsell touched on the work that is underway on the electronic health record. Kelly Mendes gave an overview of Citizens for Digital Health (C4DH), an exciting collaboration with two new companies, Mikata Health and Brightsquid Secure Communications, which contacted IMAGINE looking for citizen involvement in the belief that citizen co-creation with technology to influence health is essential.

Table Discussion on Digital Health
All table participants are involved in innovation and digital health and bring expertise in digital health startups and innovation processes. There is keen interest in creating a physical and virtual home for IMAGINE in partnership and collaboration with Alberta digital health entrepreneurs..

Primary Health Care


Don McLeod explained the process of Primary Health Care and outlined some of the outcomes of the citizen dialogue. He also discussed the Collaboration for Change Initiative (CCI), a coalition of organizations in Alberta committed to improving primary health care through dialogue, mutual exploration, and citizen-centred action. The CCI is helping to support primary care reform through working with partners to design and facilitate innovative ways to enhance citizen-patient engagement. The Double Helix

Healthcare 101 (HC101)

Troy Stooke explained that improving health care starts with understanding how the health care system works. That is behind HC101, A Beginner’s Guide to Alberta’s Complex and Multi-layered System. HC101 is being created through the collaboration of a number of organizations under the leadership of IMAGINE and Alberta Health Services – Strategic Clinical Networks. HC101’s aim will be to help Albertans understand our health system and engage them in discussions related to our own health and health system improvement activities. There are four HC101 themes: “Healthcare Basics for Albertans” (launching soon on MyHealth Alberta), and three modules to be developed – “Finding my Way” (health system navigation), “Being my Own Advocate”, and “My Rights”.

Table Discussion on Healthcare 101

There was much interest in how to spread the work of HC101 and ideas on how to build the next three modules. Four themes and questions emerged: 1. Work simultaneously on advocacy for ourselves and the partnership connections needed, so that the public knows how to navigate. 2. Ensure relevancy for every individual when delivering health care basics for Albertans: use “training-focus” groups and “train-the-trainer” groups. Some people might only be able to handle 15 minutes, others an hour.  3. Address needs of people in both pre-digital and digital worlds. Focus on emotional intelligence. 4. Focus on patient–doctor relationships.

Attendees indicated they would like participate first in a train-the-trainer/patient-advocate session.

Community Conversations and Building Capacity

Catherine McLeod discussed how IMAGINE is committed to support Albertans in being active partners who shape health care, to increase our collective understanding of patient and family centered care, to use evidence (including our evidence from lived experience) and to reach across the province to engage people who want to improve health care.

Inviting Albertans to host conversations and gather insights, stories and ideas about what it will take to improve the health system in Alberta is a way to generate grassroots interest and involve more people in the work of IMAGINE. A toolkit has been developed to support people who are interested in hosting a “Community Conversation” with their neighbours, friends or co-workers.

Table Discussion: Conversations and Building Capacity

It was exciting to discover our group’s shared interest in getting the Community Conversations initiative off the ground. We explored ideas for working together to develop effective training and support for conversation hosts, and a model for groups to provide their feedback to IMAGINE.

Groups and Agencies

Doug Firby welcomed volunteers to join the Communications Working Group in a variety of roles, including writing, editing, and participating on our social media platforms; including monitoring, engaging and messaging.

Alex Harrison described the collaboration happening with national agencies. This has included developing the Canadian Patient Safety Patient Engagement Guide available at their website. Collaborating with the Canadian Foundation for Health Care Improvement (CFHI) has produced Family Presence materials for patients and families, and the planning and participating in the September 2017 National Forum on Family Presence. CFHI is also planning a national collaborative on Transitions in Care and IMAGINE will be looking at opportunities to participate in this CFHI collaborative.

Table Discussion: Emerging Areas of Interest

The discussion opened with exploring ways IMAGINE might collaborate with partners. One key opportunity is to help provide content/process for workshops and train-the-trainer programs that build capacity for citizen-patient leaders. We also discussed how to measure progress toward a people-centred health system. What indicators should we use? Can we create these together? The table also discussed how we might identify key policy issues in 2019 – a year of federal and provincial elections.

Making Connections and Building Momentum was a high-energy event, with positive participant evaluations including “Great meet up. Loved everything – venue, info, people, food!”,  and a number of attendees expressing interest in getting involved in IMAGINE. Similar networking events across Alberta are being considered.

By Alexandra Harrison

Alex Harrison is a semi-retired faculty member at the University of Calgary. Her expertise includes Patient and Family Engagement, the Healthcare system, and Postgraduate Medical Education.