Ensuring Access to High Quality, Patient-Centred IBD Care

Research has shown that people living with IBD who reside in rural locations may have worse disease-related outcomes compared to those living closer to specialist centres.
Research has shown that people living with IBD who reside in rural locations may have worse disease-related outcomes compared to those living closer to specialist centres.

Researchers at NSHA are working hard to systematically identify and remove barriers that prevent people with IBD from gaining access to timely, high-quality care—not just in Nova Scotia, but all across Canada.

“After completing a successful pilot study funded by the NSHA Research Fund, we received funding from CIHR to evaluate perceived and actual access to IBD services,” said Courtney Heisler, an epidemiologist who joined the division as full-time research associate in 2015, working alongside Dr. Jennifer Jones. “We’re using the data to map Canadians’ access to IBD care, in order to develop a deep understanding and empathy for what the end users of the system experience.”

The researchers are surveying and conducting focus groups with patients, gastroenterology specialists, family physicians, and medical administrators.

“We want to define the actual and perceived barriers and facilitators to care, from all of these perspectives,” said Heisler, adding that patients play key roles in the study’s development and serve on the steering committee. “By comparing and sharing the data across provinces, we’ll be able to identify the most impactful health system infrastructure and process challenges at a high level so that we can develop and evaluate province-specific health care delivery innovations.”

A related study examined quality of referrals to the Nova Scotia Collaborative IBD program.

“If the referral is not legible or does not provide all the necessary information, it can cause delays and serious consequences for patients in urgent need of care,” Heisler said. “We’re using our findings to develop targeted education programs to improve the quality of referrals.”

At the same time, Dr. Jones is leading a QEII Foundation TRIC grant-funded study working with IMIT Virtual Care (formerly N.S. Telehealth) to explore the use of distance models for improving access to care.

“We want to design a platform that allows specialists in Halifax to connect with primary health care providers and patients across the province,” she said. “This will expedite diagnosis while deepening providers’ understanding of symptoms and the pathways to care.”