While not all of us will face a life-changing healthcare crisis – a frightening diagnosis, such as cancer, multiple sclerosis or Alzheimer’s; an elderly parent or partner who needs immediate placement in long-term care; or a loved one with a serious illness – it’s important to understand how your life will change and what you can do.

I have seen it happen again and again. Your world is turned upside down. You are stressed and stretched to the limit. How are you going to cope?

Welcome to the Canadian healthcare system

In this moment, what you seek is guidance. Unfortunately, our healthcare system is complex, fragmented and largely uncoordinated. Most people are left scrambling to find their own resources and, as a result, often fall through the cracks.

Many other systems also come into play: legal, financial, government, insurers and employers. These overlap healthcare challenges to compound the complexity.

I need help!

Deep breaths. It’s time to take control – you are responsible for your own healthcare (or that of a loved one who can’t take care of themselves). Taking control will lead to better health outcomes, as you make the most informed and appropriate choices.

So where do you turn for help?

  • Friends and family for moral support and to tap into their previous healthcare experiences.
  • Healthcare professionals for expertise in their specific area of practice.
  • Healthcare navigators to guide you through the maze.

Navigators – your partners in care

Government-funded navigators are already working in Canadian hospitals, primarily in cancer care. Private healthcare (or patient) navigators, however, are relatively new to Canada. The rise of this service reflects the challenges of navigating a complex, siloed healthcare system that differs from province to province.

Healthcare navigators support and empower patients, while helping access care and services. The navigator is part of the healthcare team – nurturing the relationship between the individuals and their healthcare providers to ensure optimal care. They are independent and accountable to the patient, not an employer or institution, allowing them to advocate without bias.

These services are not covered under government or private insurance plans. Prices are generally about $100/hour. More and more, people see healthcare navigation as an investment that offers peace of mind, much like paying lawyers, financial planners and other professionals for expert advice. Navigators fill a gap in the system, giving you options in crisis and proving a sensible investment to help access the healthcare resources you need and deserve.


Instant Expert: A Case Study

When his 83-year-old dad suffered a massive stroke, Robert instantly jumped into the role of caregiver to navigate the stroke rehabilitation world, about which he knew nothing. The 48-year-old is an associate professor at an Ontario college. This demanding career, plus his role on many committees, leaves little free time. With siblings either dealing with their own medical issues or living outside of Canada, Robert was responsible for developing a plan to support his dad upon his release from hospital into the care of Robert’s frail 81-year-old stepmother. With no in-home support services offered, Robert knew he needed advice, so he engaged the services of a healthcare navigator.

This is how they were able to help:

  • Educated him about the stroke rehabilitation process
  • Provided links to stroke care and rehab resources
  • Advocated for his father at care team meetings
  • Secured a longer stay in hospital, followed by rehabilitation in a convalescent facility
  • Offered in-home rehabilitation and home support options to family and caregivers
  • Acted as a sounding board and support for family concerns

Virginia Miles is a healthcare navigator who owns and operates Compass Healthcare Solutions.

Originally published in Issue 01 of YouAreUNLTD Magazine.