Addressing Health from a Wider Lens by Asako Inagawa

Sweet potato fries, meditation exercises, on-site farmers market, health insurance assistance.

However disparate and random this jumble of terms may seem, these are all things patients at Abbotsford Falls can access. As a Health and Benefits advocate at Abbottsford Falls Family Practice and Counseling Network (which is the very first nurse practitioner led health center!), I help patients enroll in health insurance. In the beginning, my service description seemed almost finite and limited to insurance enrollment, but after a few months speaking to patients, I realized just how expansive my reach to patients can be. I've learned that at Abbottsford, we work together as a team to address the physical, mental, and behavioral aspects of a patient’s wellbeing. This concept is what lies at the heart of integrative care, a model that coordinates physical and behavioral healthcare. Integrative care addresses health from a wide lens. 

Take, for example, one of the first patients I helped enroll in health insurance. A bright and warm spirit, my patient was slowly recognizing the first signs of diabetes and beginning a concerted effort to lose weight and eat a healthier diet. As soon as he brought up his action plan, I thought of our wonderful on-site nutritionist. She leads a diabetes group and a pre-diabetes group (cooking the most flavorful sweet potato fries I’ve ever had - all without any salt!). I arranged for my patient to have a one-on-one meeting with her to discuss more detailed and tailored plans to manage diabetes. Even beyond physical health, I tried to alleviate the work stress he had just spoke to me about and recommended the mind-body specialist who offers massages and meditation classes.  In terms of health coverage, he was thinking about enrolling in his employer offered health insurance. Even for patients who come in with insurance, I always make an effort to inform them of the many options available, including Medicaid, MAWD, CHIP, Marketplace. After the patient and I went over the specifics of MAWD (Medical Assistance for Workers with Disabilities), he quickly worked out medication costs for his diabetes condition compared to his employer coverage, and we decided to apply for MAWD right then and there.

Throughout my short months here, I’ve learned just how important it is to empower patients with knowledge - beyond basic insurance information. Only then can we as healthcare professionals truly arm patients with resources in times of need.