We’re so proud to collaborate with Selkirk College Rural Pre-Med Program students on their third-year community-based research projects!

This year, Selkirk College 3rd Year Rural PreMed students Bella Schacher, Deni Corrigan, and Liam Richardson, investigated patient perspectives on the potential role of patient navigators  in the Kootenay Boundary region. Patient navigators already fill many roles in the Canadian health care system. Their responsibilities include identifying patients’ needs, coordinating care, offering support, providing education, and connecting patients with care providers. 

In a 2022 survey conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, only 15% of Canadians reported having easy access to health care, 31% experienced challenges and 29% had chronic difficulty with access. A 2020 Divisions of Family Practice survey found that 54% of unattached patients and 40% of attached patients experienced challenges managing their health. 

Patient navigators already play a vital role in assisting individuals with cancer, diabetes, and kidney disease and have been incorporated into health care for Indigenous populations; however, their targeted service areas are small and their reach is limited. As  Kootenay Boundary health care services are undergoing reorganization and optimization to meet the needs of its citizens, PACC and the Selkirk students developed a survey asking the following question, “Do residents of the Kootenay Boundary and Central Kootenay Regional Districts perceive that having access to a patient navigator integrated into established health care systems would improve their quality of care?” 

The survey asked for basic demographic information (e.g., age, location) and whether participants currently had a primary care clinician or any direct experience with patient navigators.  Questions covered patients’ understanding of personal health and the health care system, their thoughts on patient navigators, potential benefits, and the types of services that would be most needed from patient navigators. 

Responses were received from 66 individuals, the majority between 18-24 years (35.6%) and 65-74 years (22.1%). Twelve participants did not have a primary care clinician and only five had experience with a patient navigator. Of patients with a primary care provider, most were only somewhat confident (50%) or not confident (18%) that they would know how to access additional health care services if needed. This response was similar to that of patients without a primary care provider; 7 of 12 were somewhat confident, somewhat not confident, or not at all confident they would know how to access care. Similarly, 38/66 patients reported sometimes or often being confused when accessing health resources.  78% of both unattached and attached patients agreed that they saw value in having a patient navigator help them connect to required health services. 


The potential uses of patient navigation with the greatest perceived value were in accessing health resources, patient advocacy, and clarification of diagnosis and treatment options. 

For the 5 patients who had an experience with a patient navigator within the past year, two  ‘strongly agreed’, one ‘agreed’, and two people were ‘neutral’ that the patient navigator improved their knowledge about their health and resources available. The patient navigator very much (N=1) or somewhat (N=3) improved their quality of care; one person was ‘undecided’. 

In summary, this small study revealed that residents of the Kootenay Boundary and Central Kootenay Regional Districts would value and use patient navigators if they were implemented into the health care system. The PACC used this data in one of its recommendations to the BC Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services. The students’ final report is available from the PACC upon request.

Mindy Smith, MD, MS; PACC member