L-R: Dr. Praseedha Janakiram and Dr. Vanessa Redditt

Leadership in Refugee Health Research

Addressing a knowledge gap in the medical community

At Women’s College Hospital (WCH) we believe that quality healthcare should be available to everyone. We know that after resettlement in Canada, refugees often face significant barriers to accessing healthcare and have difficulty navigating the health system. Additionally, refugee patients have unique healthcare needs, given their often traumatic experiences prior to their arrival in Canada. That’s why the hospital launched its Crossroads Clinic. Crossroads provides comprehensive medical services to newly arrived refugee patients.

“The Crossroads Clinic is making an on-the-ground impact for our patients here in Toronto. At the same time, our team realized that there was a large knowledge gap within the medical community on the needs of refugee and refugee claimant patients. We felt that it wasn’t enough to have a single clinic, we wanted to learn more and share our learnings with other researchers and clinicians,” said Dr. Vanessa Redditt, a physician at Crossroads and a Women’s College Hospital Institute for Health System Solutions and Virtual Care (WIHV) innovation fellow.

As a result, WIHV and Crossroads have collaborated to launch multiple research and education projects. For example, WIHV, working with a refugee health clinic in Calgary, is creating a clinical database to track the health status of newly arrived refugees noting basic socio-demographic factors, as well as patients’ health conditions. “We plan to expand this database to additional refugee clinics across the country to gain a more comprehensive view of the health conditions and care utilization patterns of refugee populations in Canada,” said Redditt.

To address the systemic barriers refugee patients face in accessing care, the research team has conducted a study with York University aimed at understanding the perceptions of primary care providers. Through a more comprehensive understanding of providers’ involvement in the care of refugees and challenges they have faced doing so, WIHV hopes to identify interventions to support practitioners and in turn improve access to care.

The WIHV Crossroads Team L-R: Vanessa Wright, Dr. Vanessa Redditt, Dr. Praseedha Janakiram, Shivani Chandra

Dr. Redditt and her team have also launched a series of workshops and studies based out of Crossroads. “We recently launched a cervical cancer screening study and are piloting a series of perinatal education workshops for refugee women. The workshop content is particularly focused on health system navigation, accessing community services and supporting healthy pregnancy and newborn practices in an unfamiliar context,” Shivani Chandra, a WIHV research assistant, explained.

This research program has not only led to quality improvements at Crossroads but has helped to enhance medical and research education across the country. The team has shared their initial findings with researchers and clinicians at major conferences, generating greater understanding of the unique needs of this patient population. Additionally, through the refugee shelter outreach program created by WIHV and Crossroads, medical students are gaining a deeper appreciation of social determinants of health and learning to provide more sensitive and culturally safe medical care.

“Having the medical students volunteer with our programs, really enhanced the experience for the clients. It allowed students to create a rapport with clients, while also encouraging clients to engage with more people in the wider community. Working together promotes understanding, knowledge exchange and also assists clients with integration into their new communities. ” – Andrea Herod, Transitional Housing Coordinator, Sojourn House

As this research program continues, the team will be looking to dig deeper into how health status and access to care influences integration and social outcomes for refugee communities.