Better than Google or Facebook? ‘ARC Navigator’ looks at connecting North Dundas and Merrickville-Wolford residents with healthcare services

NORTH DUNDAS — At a time when health care services seem more complicated than ever, 21 researchers with the ‘ARC Navigator Project’ are studying how to help the Merrickville-Wolford and North Dundas areas find those services virtually — in a manner touted as more effective than the myriad of existing internet tools. Sixteen locals are currently enrolled as users for purposes of the study.

Overseen by the Bruyère Research Institute, the effort is a partnership with local universities and the Ontario Ministry of Health. Access to Resources In The Community, otherwise known as ARC, is the third research study of its kind. Previous editions have attempted to determine the benefits and potential popularity of a proposed new service that anyone could use to better connect with their community. They have offered free bilingual help to patients who have had difficulties finding local resources — including mental health services.

In 2020-2021, however, the ARC team aims to see the impact of its work amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, ARC is offering free bilingual help to anyone looking for a bit of direction. They provide patients with a navigator, who can lay out the available resources, whether that be social groups for seniors or walk-in counselling. 

The ARC team has collected data over the last four years about the resources, services, and programs located in its two areas of operation. Armed with this information, they can narrow down searches for patients based on eligibility criteria, fees, location, and delivery format. That’s what makes their service easier to use than Google or Facebook, according to a spokesperson.

“Our goal is really to help as many individuals in our intervention communities who have suffered the consequences of the pandemic reach the services and programs that are available to them as well as to offer them support if needed,” said a research assistant with the Institute, Carolynn Warnet, MBE.

ARC offers increased access to mental health services like individual counselling, group counselling, addiction services, walk-in counselling, or meditation. They can also users find financial advice, recreation programs, or childcare. All data collected in the study is anonymous and stored securely. 

Access to Resources In The Community will run until November 2021. 

Warnet answered a series of questions from NVN about the pilot project and its viability.

Q. How much funding are you receiving from the government for this study? How long does the study run?

We have received $165,964 over the course of 2 years. The intervention will run until November 2021.

The project started in 2015 and has completed two successful studies that demonstrate the benefit of the ARC navigation model in helping individuals connect to health and social resources.

Q. How long is this service intended to run after the money runs out? Do you intend to create an app that would be self-supporting, say, through advertising?

We are continuously looking to secure  funding to continue rolling out the study but the navigation services will end in November 2021 and after will start data analysis so we can produce reports on the benefit of the navigation model. At this time we do not intend to create an app.

Q. What are you doing to protect the privacy of individuals who volunteer to participate in this study?

We follow the privacy guidelines as per the Bruyère Continuing Care Research Ethics Board. We protect the privacy of participants by:

  1. Anonymize all personal information (individuals may not be identified from data).
  2. All data collected will be securely stored in the OnCall Health platform, a platform that is compliant with personal health information protection legislation in Canada as well as PHIPA and PIPEDA compliant.
  3. All files are housed securely on the access protected Bruyere system.
  4. At the end of the study, all electronic data will stored for 10 years for the purpose of auditing. That study data will be stored separately from the identifiable information. All data will be stored in password protected files and on the password protected Bruyere system.

Q. Why have you chosen this area as your study area?

The service is provided under a pragmatic cluster randomized controlled trial. Two regions (clusters) were randomly assigned the intervention arms: Merrickville Wolford and North Dundas.

Q. How many people are currently signed up to help you with your study?

We currently have 16 enrolled participants.

Q. How is this service going to be any more effective than Google Maps and/or the multiple community Facebook pages now serving our communities? (I can put up a post asking for references or ideas about where to seek a particular service and have several answers from knowledgeable locals inside of ten minutes.)

The navigation services are more effective than an internet search as we have been collecting resources, programs and services in our database for over four years. Our database includes information such as eligibility criteria, fees, location, delivery format, etc. which make our navigator extremely knowledgeable and apt to confidently make recommendations to the participants. Also, some individuals that use the ARC services of often times socially complex which make it difficult for them to know how and where to start looking for resources. Our ARC navigator is able to discuss with the individual to determine their needs and also offer informational, instrumental and emotional support to help the individual connect with the suggested resources.


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