Why Promoting Representation is Critical to Advancing Cardiac Care for Canadian Patients
This non-profit is leading the way when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion, not only within its direct network, but with patients.
Women’s visibility for their contributions to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has gradually improved over the years as governments, academic institutions, and businesses put funding into their equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives.
For years, science, technology, engineering, and mathematics have been predominantly male-dominated fields. It’s a trend that organizations like CANet — the Cardiovascular Network of Canada — are working to change, recognizing the significant barriers to entry that underrepresented groups not only face when joining these industries, but the role representation and equity must have in critical research and moving the fields forward. This vision isn’t new for CANet, who have been working to embed equity into their network for many years. “We want to turn the tides in what has been historically, a male-dominated field,” says Dr. Anthony Tang, Cardiologist and CEO, Scientific Director of CANet.
We want to see equal, patient-oriented care, at the highest level, for everyone.
Dr. Anthony Tang
CANet, a non-profit, was established nearly a decade ago, built with the aim of promoting research and development in the cardiovascular space and funding ground-breaking cardiac research. During this time, the organization’s goal has been focused on transforming the healthcare system, driving quality care for better health outcomes. More recently, it has put increased focus into prioritizing patient driven, digital health technologies, building a more equitable treatment landscape for cardiac patients across Canada.
We don’t need to change what we’re delivering to patients, but we do need to find ways to deliver the same level of healthcare to patients, irrespective of access.
Dr. Ratika Parkash
Dr. Ratika Parkash, Researcher and Associate Scientific Director at CANet notes, “There is no question that diversity was not at the forefront with respect to patients and researchers prior to a decade ago, but we’ve seen a major shift in the last five years. It’s critical to embrace everyone’s viewpoints when it comes to research.”
From the beginning, CANet has prioritized diversity, integrating underrepresented groups into all levels of the organization. Currently, CANet’s research training program (CHAT) includes more female trainees than male, and this same approach can be seen threaded throughout the organization from the Board of Directors, through to education and training committees.
One critical — and consistent theme — across the healthcare industry, has been the need to incorporate different, unique patient viewpoints into research. This reigns particularly true for cardiovascular health, which can impact women and those from racially diverse backgrounds differently. “As health professionals, we often look at things as healthcare providers, not as healthcare utilizers, but patients have their own needs, and these needs are not identical,” says Dr. Tang.
From the beginning, CANet has considered patients to be equal partners. They have a huge voice in the network.
Dr. Katherine Allan
Dr. Katherine Allan, Senior Research Associate in Cardiology at St. Michael’s Hospital and Chair of the Training and Education Committee at CANet says. “From the beginning, CANet has considered patients to be equal partners. They have a huge voice in the network and are embedded into every committee. As a researcher, I can think I know the problems, but if it’s not relevant to patients, it’s useless.”
Leveraging digital solutions
Customized strategies must be developed to help integrate patients — regardless of where they live, who they are, or where they come from — into their own healthcare journeys, empowering them to seek the quality care everyone deserves, while also gathering important research insights as they go through these experiences. “We don’t need to change what we’re delivering to patients, but we do need to find ways to deliver the same level of healthcare to patients, irrespective of access,” Dr. Parkash says.
VIRTUES is a holistic, comprehensive digital health approach that provides equity of care aiming to meet the needs of all patients, regardless of geographical, cultural, and systemic barriers. It’s a CANet-led patient-driven cardiac care initiative, offering patients an innovative solution to managing complex conditions. It can be accessed and delivered to Canada’s remote regions, helping these patients not only receive the same level of cardiac care and information, but ensuring they have a forum that allows their voices to be heard and incorporated into research.
Understanding culturally responsive Healthcare
Canada’s Indigenous communities, for example, are one group that require culturally responsive health research, services, and programming, something Dr. Alexandra King of Nipissing First Nation and co-lead of Pewaseskwan Indigenous Wellness Research Group, knows well. She notes that rates of heart disease are higher within Indigenous communities, and culturally responsive healthcare is necessary to ensure Indigenous people feel safe and heard across Canada’s healthcare system. “We need to advocate for system-level changes that prioritize culturally safe and responsive care,” Dr. King says.
We need to advocate for system-level changes that prioritize culturally safe and responsive care.
Dr. Alexandra King
CANet and Pewaseskwan are working together to help incorporate Indigenous voices when it comes to heart-related healthcare and research. “We need to find ways to prioritize community-based, community-informed research that meaningfully involves Elders and Knowledge Holders and people with lived or living experience, bringing their own perspectives which can in turn, enrich and inform research that’s being done in the cardiac space,” Dr. King explains. Through digital technologies, like VIRTUES, groups like those living in more rural Indigenous communities can play a role in their own healthcare journeys.
For CANet, the future of cardiac care is simple: “We want to see equal, patient-oriented care, at the highest level, for everyone,” Dr. Tang says, and it’s that vision that the organization is dedicated to pursing at all levels.