Reducing barriers to cancer screening for all Albertans is the reason Alberta Health Services programs, such as the Screening for Life online information resource and Screen Test mobile clinics, exist.
Whether it’s being sensitive to a patient’s gender, sexual orientation or cultural background, or ensuring remote and Indigenous communities receive access to testing, Alberta Health Services has made strides to offer an inclusive process in hopes of encouraging more people to participate in regular cancer screening.
Screening For Life is a centralized digital resource. Visiting screeningforlife.ca provides information on Alberta’s four cancer-screening programs: breast, cervical, colorectal and lung. The site features a risk calculator, information on where to participate in screening and information specifically targeted to the LGBTQ2S+ community. Efforts are made to use inclusive language and to acknowledge and impart information relating to gender identity, gender- affirming surgeries, sexuality and hormone therapies as they may pertain to cancer screening.
For people living in remote or underserved communities, Screen Test provides inclusive and equitable access to breast cancer screening and mammograms. The program deploys two large trailer units that contain digital mammography equipment, travelling to more than 120 communities around Alberta on a yearly basis, with demand increasing to expand its testing territory.
Screen Test currently has partnerships with 28 Indigenous communities around Alberta, and all staff with Alberta Health Services receive training to ensure services are culturally sensitive and appropriate for First Nations and Métis communities.
“No matter where you live in the province, you have the same access to screening services with Screen Test. There are still pockets of the population that are under-screened and don’t access screening services, so we work with community partners to identify these groups and determine strategies that are proven to be successful to raise awareness of, and increase participation in, breast cancer screening,” says Joan Hauber, manager of the Screen Test program.
Screen Test mammogram results are sent to patients via mail or MyAHS Connect, and are shared with their health-care providers. If patients receive abnormal mammogram results and don’t have health-care providers, Screen Test connects them to appropriate care.
As of December 2021, Screen Test has performed more than 540,000 mammograms and detected 3,045 cases of breast cancer.
The program is planning to add 3D mammography, called breast tomosynthesis, to its next equipment upgrades as part of a $3-million equipment enhancement campaign with the Alberta Cancer Foundation.
Imagine having to tell the same story over and over again each time you need care from a new health-care provider.
Until recently, this was the experience of many in the health-care system. That’s because Alberta Health Services and its partners had patient health information stored in hundreds of different systems that did not always “talk” to each other.
For cancer patients, this meant dealing with challenges like having to repeatedly explain their medical history, current medications and treatments, or having repeat laboratory or diagnostic tests, even if they’d just had them done recently at a different site.
For LGBTQ2S+ patients, their experiences might include additional challenges like repeating their preferred pronouns and gender identity, or having to share other sensitive information that they may be reluctant to disclose, which can create a hesitancy to access needed care.
These are only some of the myriad issues that the new province-wide Connect Care initiative will aim to resolve.
Connect Care is a centralized clinical information system that will connect all Alberta Health Services and partner locations across the province, so that patients will have one digital chart that can be accessed, no matter which Alberta hospital the patient visits.
“It will allow clinical teams caring for the patient to have their patient’s comprehensive health information at their fingertips,” says Dr. Linda Watson, scientific director of Applied Research and Patient Experience for Cancer Care Alberta.
Besides getting all health-care providers on the same informational page, Connect Care also features a tethered patient portal called MyAHS Connect. It allows people aged 14 and over secure access to their own medical information, allowing them to be active partners in their own care.
“They can’t see everything in their medical chart, but they can see their personal health information from diagnostic tests and bloodwork. Patients can also send messages to their care team, have virtual appointments through it and complete symptom questionnaires prior to appointments. It’s quite comprehensive,” Watson says.
For cancer patients, the advantages of the centralized system and portal will be numerous. No matter where they live or go for care, their different care teams will always know about their most recent treatments, procedures and tests by checking Connect Care. Information such as a patient’s gender identity and preferred pronouns are also noted in the system. And patients can view their own test results and information, so they can attend appointments informed ahead of time and ready with questions.
For more remote patients in rural and Indigenous communities, the need to travel may be decreased as more virtual care opportunities via the patient portal are created. Connect Care is doing a phased launch approach, with all areas of the province expected to be on board by the fall of 2024. Cancer patients in all Alberta Health Services zones have had access to Connect Care since November 2022