“I love that I have the autonomy I have to find new ways to help patients,” says Barb Eddy, family nurse practitioner at the Downtown CHC.

Barb sees gaps in care when others can’t

Visit the Downtown Community Health Centre (DCHC) and you’ll be hard pressed to find a seat in the waiting area. Local residents, most living with addictions, mental illness and chronic medical conditions, frequent the centre and Barb Eddy, family nurse practitioner (NP), knows many on a first-name basis.

“Our patients never fail to inspire me,” says Barb. “Over the past 10 years I’ve had the privilege to watch patients grow and accomplish things we might never have thought possible. It’s a beautiful thing.”

As a nurse practitioner, Barb works where nursing and medicine meet, an intersection providing her a unique vantage point to recognize gaps in care. And, with her NP training, the ability to take a leadership role to close them. At the DCHC, this has resulted in several team initiatives, including research projects.

Research for better screening and care plans

Working in partnership with Marvin Wesenberg, respiratory therapist, Barb’s first foray as a research principal investigator involved a study begun in 2009 to determine the best way to encourage early detection of COPD.

“COPD is a concern for many of our patients but they weren’t accessing all the resources available to them,” she explains. “The research led to a standardized approach for annual screenings, improved care plans and better patient access to respiratory and other services.”

Today, Barb is leading a study on colon screening rates, funded by the VCH Health Research Challenge. The goal: test a new standardized approach to screening and care planning to ensure the centre’s patients have access to the same health promotion services as any other patient with a family physician.

“Our clinic’s patients often need help with multiple, complex issues,” says Dr. Karen Arnold. “During some of these complicated visits, regular health screenings may not be on my radar. Barb’s research has increased my awareness and acted as a trigger to talk about these services with patients.”

Barb hopes to see a 10 per cent increase in colon screenings and aims to embed and expand quality improvement efforts at DCHC. “The beauty of this kind of research is that you don’t have to wait for the final results to be published before you can apply your knowledge,” she says. “It’s a great way for our entire team to learn together and advance practice.”

Everyone benefits, especially patients

“We’re lucky to have NPs on our team to provide holistic care,” says Fran Gowe, a DCHC nurse for 17 years. “They do comprehensive assessments and initiate referrals. They also see the gaps where research can help us create new evidence-based practices.”

Fran feels onsite research has enhanced patient care, with staff being more vigilant about screening and catching issues earlier. She’s also seen a shift to more follow-up care and more patients referred to specialists as needed.

“Thinking about ways we can improve care is what drives me,” says Barb. “There’s nothing better than seeing patients find wellness and meaning in life.”

The application deadline for the 2017 VCH Research Challenge is May 15. Learn more here.

Related story and video

Because physicians can’t do it alone

VIDEO: Barb and Marvin on their joint COPD research project

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