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Wednesday November 25, 2015 at 9pm ET (10pm AT, 8pm CT, 7pm MT, 6pm PT)
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What is “Arts and Health?”

November 18, 2015

By: Kira Tozer (@kiratozer) for Arts Health Network Canada (@artshealthca)

Headshot of Kira Tozer

Kira Tozer

Although I’ve been working with Arts Health Network Canada for a little over 2 years now, I must admit that I still struggle with my 10 second elevator pitch to describe what “Arts & Health” is all about. My short and scripted explanation is that “Arts & Health is a growing interdisciplinary movement that embraces many forms of art to promote health, prevent disease, and enrich research inquiry.” While true, it fails to capture the breadth of activities and transformative potential that exists at the intersection of the arts and health sectors.

If my elevator companions people seem intrigued (as they often are), I expand my elucidation and explain that Arts & Health is an umbrella term that includes pursuits: bringing visual arts, music, performances and art-making opportunities into health care environments; the creative arts therapies like music therapy, dance therapy, art therapy; community arts projects that address health or social problems faced by a group of people; arts-based health research; arts-based health communication; using the arts in the education of health care professionals, etc. Often I suggest checking out this infographic or this 15 minute mini-doc for a visual overview of Arts & Health.

The arts and health can intersect in many different ways, with different aims and outcomes. The arts can help us to understand, communicate and cope with various experiences of human illness – be it our own or a loved one’s, a patient’s or a provider’s.  The arts help to reconnect us with the human element of health and health care.


Arts Health Network Canada

AHNC is a registered charity and virtual organization, functioning as a networking, capacity building and knowledge-sharing hub for anyone interested in the intersections between arts and health in Canada. We help to support connection, dialogue and information sharing, build networks and raise awareness of arts and health as well as share exemplary practices of arts and health in Canada and abroad.

As November is international Arts & Health Month it seems a fitting time to host a conversation in the Twitterverse on the value and growth of arts and health initiatives in Canada and abroad.  Although there are many hot topics and areas buzzing with activity within the arts and health realm, we’ll focus on 3 areas for this chat: Arts-Based Health Communications, ‘Arts on Prescription’ and Health Humanities.

Arts-Based Health Communications

Health communications is “the study and use of communication strategies to inform and influence individual and communication decisions that enhance health”[i]. The arts can be a very effective means of boosting health communications, since, as many would agree, the arts can engage and communicate with us on many levels: emotional, sensory, aesthetic, cognitive, etc.  As a knowledge translation vehicle, the arts – particularly film, theatre and research-based fiction – are gaining popularity in the health and social sectors to share new research findings. But how else can arts-based efforts contribute to health communications?

Arts on Prescription

From time to time I’m lucky enough to facilitate discussions about arts and health with groups including graduate students in public health, social work and gerontology, parks and recreation managers, arts administrators and occupational health and safety teams. I’ve noticed that discussions around art and health promotion inevitably land on social inclusion, and the fabulous opportunity that arts engagement creates for social connectivity and expanding social networks.

Related to this idea is a model making great strides in other parts of the world known as “Arts on Prescription” [ii][iii][iv] whereby primary care providers refer their patients to supportive community-based art groups.  As explained by Arts & Health South West (UK), “Arts on Prescription is a type of Social Prescribing whereby health or social care practitioners refer people to a service or a source of support. The purpose of such schemes is not to replace conventional therapies but rather to act as an adjunct, helping people in their recovery through creativity and increasing social engagement. Although the schemes are varied in their approaches and settings, the common theme is that there is a referral process.” [v]

A Canadian example of a program like this is the Creative Works Studio in Toronto for people dealing with mental illness and/or addictions issues. There are a number of other art groups in communities across Canada that provide safe places for individuals experiencing a shared health problem to expand their social networks, cope, receive empathetic social support, foster resilience through creative expression, and develop new skills; however, most operate on self-referral basis.

What would be the challenges, implications and potential benefits of formalizing a referral process to programs like these programs by primary care providers?

Health Humanities

More and more post-secondary health faculties, including medical schools [vi], are adding arts and humanities components to their core and extra curriculums: book clubs, poetry at rounds, creative writing courses, art gallery ‘lab’ work, life drawing classes, illness-related dramatic performance, cinemeducation, narrative training, etc.  These programs are introduced in efforts to foster compassion, empathy and resilience, hone observational skills and prevent burn-out in learners.  However, some critics question the importance of such activities given the volume of science-based knowledge and procedural skills that students must master in such a compressed amount of time.  What do you think?  Should health humanities programs be championed and prioritized? Why?

Blue Sky Brainstorm

image001We’ve come a long way in Canada over the last few years, with more and more Arts & Health programs and events and communities of practice surfacing in across the country.  But what’s next? Where to from here? What do we need more of in Canada to grow connections, develop partnerships, build the business case for arts & health and gain more recognition from decision makers and funders?

Join us for the evening #hcsmca chat on Wednesday, November 25th at 6pm PT/9pm ET for a discussion on the arts, creativity, health and healing.

  • T1. How can the arts enhance health communication and patient education? Share examples that include social media.
  • T2.  What is needed to introduce/expand the “Arts on Prescription” model in Canada?
  • T3. Why is it important to include arts & humanities-based activities in medical/nursing/health curriculums?
  • T4. What does Canada need more of to strengthen the ties between arts and health?
[i] Making Health Communication Programs Work. Bethesda, Md: National Cancer Institute; 2001
[ii] Bungay, H., & Clift, S. (2010). Arts on Prescription: A review of practice in the UK. Perspectives in Public Health, 130(6), 277–281. Retrieved from
[iii] Stickley, T., & Eades, M. (2013). Arts on prescription: a qualitative outcomes study. Public Health, 127(8), 727–34. Retrieved from
[iv]Stickley T, Hui A, Duncan K. Arts on Prescription Research Report.  January 2011.  Retrieved from:
[v] Arts & Health SW. Arts on Prescription (Arts on Referral) Fact Sheet.  Retrieved from:
[vi] Zhang, Z. The Art of Healing. Havard Magazine – Humanities.   July 2015.  Retrieved from:


Chat Summary 240: Social Media and Accessibility

November 15, 2015

By Amy Snow (@ayms219)

Social media are often touted as tools that have the ability to break down barriers. But they are not accessible for everyone. On November 11, 2015, the #hcsmca community discussed the challenges that many people face in trying to access, navigate and participate in social media when accessibility barriers are a factor.

We looked at questions like:

  • Why barriers exist?
  • What can we as individuals do to improve accessibility on our channels?
  • What can be done at a larger level by partnering with people in the design of technology?

Amy Snow prepared this Storify summary of chat 240. You can also read the full transcript.

Patients, Providers and the Future of Health Care

November 11, 2015

By Shelagh Maloney (@12Maloney)

headshot of Shelagh Maloney

Shelagh Maloney

If you’re looking for Canadians, apparently you have to look online: According to Statistics Canada, 83 per cent of households had access to the internet in 2012 and Ipsos Reid reports that nearly half of us have actively looked for health information online.

When it comes to health care, Canadians want to take advantage of online tools in the same way they can with other online services. Eighty per cent of Canadians would like to access their own health information and services such as online lab results, e-booking, and e-requests for prescription renewals. And those who have access report a positive experience. For example, 77 per cent of patients using personal health records in Nova Scotia felt more involved in their care.

As discussed during our HCSMCA tweet chat in June, during Digital Health Week (November 16-22), we’d like to engage with Canadians to hear how technology is supporting them to become more active participants in their care.

Twitter poster announcing chat for Digital Health Week

We hope you can join us on Wednesday, November 18, at 1 p.m. ET during the #hcsmca tweet chat on patients, providers and the future of health care. Please follow the #hcsmca hashtag and add it to your tweets as we discuss the following questions:

  1. What role do patients play, or should they play, in their health care?
  2. How is digital health changing the patient-provider relationship?
  3. What needs to change in Canadian health care so patients can act as more equal partners?

You can also continue the discussion on digital health by joining our webinar on this topic — Patients, Providers and the Future of Health Care — on Thursday, November 19 at 1 p.m. ET (time zone converter), as well as the eHITS Public Forum: Get connected to better your health live streamed event and virtual chat on November 19 at 3 p.m. ET. Please visit our Digital Health Week page for more events celebrating digital health.

About Shelagh Maloney

Ms. Maloney leads the development and execution of Infoway’s communications and marketing efforts including media relations, public opinion research, digital media, events planning, and translation services.

Social Media isn’t Accessible for Everyone – #hcsmca Explores

November 8, 2015

By Sarah E. McMillan (@mcmilly_s), reviewed by @pfanderson

Headshot of Sarah E. McMillan

Sarah E. McMillan

Social media is an increasing presence in our everyday lives. It has changed the way people gather information, accomplish everyday tasks and connect with individuals both within and outside of their personal networks. We assume that the shift towards social media, particularly on mobile devices, has enabled communication to be even more convenient than ever.

But are social media tools convenient for everyone?

Despite being described as a democratic tool that reduces social hierarchies and promotes inclusion, social media can present barriers for individuals with a disability. Assistive devices and built in accessibility features can assist and in many cases enable individuals with a visual, auditory or mobility impairment to navigate and participate in media usage. However, common challenges to accessibility still persist.

Some accessibility barriers are located within the media or device itself: an inability to increase font size, difficulty navigating between and within apps, incompatibility with voice software, no keyboard shortcuts, poor colour contrast etc. Other barriers such as absent alternate text for images and videos without closed captioning are related to social media content.

thumb scrolling on a smart phone

If improved accessibility means improved access for all, why do these barriers exist? Some reasons may be that accessibility functions and practices are not standardized, training for developers is not always readily available and assistive devices may have trouble keeping up with rapidly evolving technology.

An additional and underlying reason is that the accessibility of social media is rarely discussed outside of communities of people with disabilities.

In the spirit of broadening the conversation, join @pfanderson, @AccessHubQU and @mcmilly_s on Wednesday, November 11th at 1pm ET (time zone converter) to discuss:

  • T1: What accessibility barriers to using social media have you or someone you know experienced?
  • T2: If improved accessibility means improved access for all, why do these barriers exist?
  • T3: One “accommodation” does not fit all. Every social media tool excludes someone. What can you do to ensure your use of social media is more accessible?
  • T4: How can we build conversations about social media accessibility into our social communities?

Resources on how to promote a more accessible social media experience

  1. Accessibility Hub. “Social Media Accessibility – Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube” Queen’s University (accessed Nov. 8, 2015)  
  2. Anderson, PF. “Social Media for Exclusion” Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media Blog (accessed Nov. 8, 2015)
  3. DigitalGov. “Improving the Accessibility of Social Media in Government”  (accessed Nov. 8, 2015)

Amy Snow prepared this Storify summary of chat 240. You can also read the full transcript of the chat.

Photo credit: uditha wickramanayaka via Flickr CC.

Announcing Scholarship Applications for #hcsmca’s National Symposium – Feb 24, 2016

November 6, 2015

By Trish Paton (@trishpaton)

headshot of Trish Paton

Trish Paton

Communities like #hcsmca have flourished in the virtual realm, allowing connection without quotas or judgements. When your room has no walls and unlimited seating, it’s amazing who comes to the table and what can be accomplished.

Weekly #hcsmca Twitter chats, tackling an incredible range of problems, have welcomed everyone around the virtual table: health care providers, patients, policy and decision makers, caregivers, researchers, students, data geeks, design thinkers and more.

On Feb 24, 2016 in Vancouver, #hcsmca will host its first National Symposium. Our goal, as we plan our first-ever national face-to-face meeting, is to make sure our virtual mix is represented “IRL” (in real life). That’s why we’re offering scholarships for patients, caregivers, and students to help with travel and accommodation costs.

If you use communications technology, are part of online communities, and are engaged with patient, caregiver or student communities in health, you’re invited to apply. Deadline is December 11, 2015.

Submit your application today!

The Program

The Planning Committee has been asking, listening and talking about discussion themes, programming, speakers, activities, scholarships and sponsors. It’s exciting, thought-provoking and energizing to witness ideas shift to reality. Take a look at the exciting program outline with amazing speakers and the powerhouse breakout sessions to harness our collective knowledge.

We’ve designed a day to explore how digital communications impact quality of care, support patient-provider co-design, contribute to research and knowledge translation, and lead to interdisciplinary decision-making. This is a problem-solving day where a room of 150 people spanning the healthcare spectrum will gather to ask questions, listen to all perspectives, value speakers and experiences as real and meaningful and finally to talk about solutions.

Join us. Register here.

Seeking Sponsors

We’re still adding more sponsors. Your sponsorship will support the attendance and participation of patients, caregivers, and students. Read about sponsorship opportunities here or contact for more information.

A big thanks to the sponsors who have already committed to supporting the event:

Premier Sponsors $6000

Gold Sponsors $2000

Silver Sponsors $1500Join us as a sponsor

Bronze Sponsors $1000

Testing a new data model to support evidence-informed decision making

October 29, 2015

By Simon Hagens, Director of Benefits Realization (@infoway)

headshot of Simon Hagens

Simon Hagens

A few months ago, Canada Health Infoway’s ImagineNation Data Impact Challenge put out a call to all authorized users of Canadian health data sets to determine if important health and health care questions, like duplication rates for tests and exams, or the impact of prompt discharge summaries on re-admission could be answered in a timely, privacy-sensitive manner. As a user of health system evidence, I know how hard it can be to find the information needed in a timely manner, so our goal was to test the feasibility of a new model for answering practice and policy questions quickly, and provide confidence by generating evidence from multiple sources.

During the two-month Challenge period, we were amazed with the level of participation and even more excited about the quality of the entries submitted in only 60 days. To say the least, they exceeded our expectations; in fact many of them put a spotlight on important issues affecting care for Canadians. All of these submissions are available here.

The Data Impact Challenge team is excited to share some of the insights from the Challenge during the tweet chat with #HCSMCA. We’ll talk about the process, key learnings and what we plan on doing with the insights gathered from the Challenge.

Man looking at data, charts and graphs

We hope you can join us to discuss these three topics on November 4 at 1 pm ET (time zone converter). To participate, please follow #HCSMCA and add the hashtag to all your tweets. During the one-hour tweet chat, we will discuss the following topics:

  • T1: Could data sourced from @Infoway’s Data Impact challenge be used to inform future policy decisions?
  • T2: How can the insights gained from this data challenge be shared/used?
  • T3: What would you like to learn from future data challenges?

In addition to the tweet chat, we will be sharing the results from the submissions during our webinar series, where some of the participating teams will discuss their results. To learn more about the webinar series, visit our website.

About Simon Hagens
Simon is Director of Benefits Realization at Canada Health Infoway, focusing on the ‎adoption of digital health solutions and ensuring the clinicians, patients and the health system see the value.

Creative Ways to Boost Collaboration

October 25, 2015

By Alaina Cyr (@AlainaBCyr)

Alaina Cyr

Alaina Cyr

In early 2013, four colleagues and I were pushing for a blog for our program. Once we succeeded in pleading our case, we each planned to each publish a piece every 2 weeks. Soon after launching, it became apparent that this approach wouldn’t work. Some bloggers had trouble with writing, finding topics, or finishing the pieces while others had an abundance of ideas but lacked the time to actually write and edit them. We were all enthusiastic, but we weren’t prepared for the time commitment. Pumping out a new piece, revising, and incorporating feedback every two weeks for a new blogger – on top of day-to-day responsibilities – was next to impossible.

The Problem: While our blog may have hit the ground running, we ran out of speed in the first lap. We didn’t prepare ourselves for the marathon of producing a blog.

At the time I had been reading Chris Hadfield’s “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth” and was feeling inspired by his humble approach to teamwork. I asked myself: What could we do to help us make a better blog? If some bloggers were struggling with topics or flow, maybe we needed to help each other talk through our ideas. If others were struggling with time, maybe we needed to dedicate time to the blog on a regular basis. And if blogging was meant to be fun, maybe we needed to make it feel that way.

A Solution: Aha! What if we formed a Blog Club, in same vein as other writing clubs? We’d have a supportive group to bounce ideas off of. We’d have dedicated time to work on the blogs each week. We could keep it from feeling like “just another meeting” by keeping it casual and informal.

people on multi-seated bicycle

Tactics: Each week we met for about an hour in the most comfortable and casual setting we could make. Those with drafts or topic ideas would have time to talk them through. Everyone was encouraged to come, listen to others’ stories and contribute their perspective as they felt comfortable, even if they didn’t have a work-in-progress to share.

Results: Our Blog Club included a diverse group of people from a variety of professional backgrounds. Instead of the variety of opinions bogging us down, the different perspectives let us each see our writing from a different perspective. And hearing others’ perspectives inevitably inspired each of us to write about topics we likely wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.

Blog Club undoubtedly reduced editing time, too. Countless times a blogger would preface their post with a sheepish “I’m not sure where to take this” and another blogger would chime in with a small tweak that would complete the post. Guest bloggers, too, benefited from a visit or two to Blog Club. When a blogger shared a piece with the team, we would refine it and hash out the problems together. It made us all better writers.

Blog Club quickly became a highlight of my week. Not only did I love hearing my colleague’s stories, it made me feel like a part of a team rather than a simple contributor.

What made it work:

  • Everyone respected each other. It takes a lot of guts to read aloud unfinished work and half-baked or controversial ideas. Blog Club was a safe place to share and feedback was always constructive.
  • It was optional. Blog Club was meant to motivate us to write. Making it a mandatory meeting would have made it much less enjoyable.
  • We met every week, same time, same place. Having someone round up the troops every week doesn’t hurt either.


We’ve all experienced challenges when delivering on a team project. On the October 28 at 9pm ET (time zone converter), let’s chat about creative ways to collaborate better.

  • T1: What do you think are the keys to successful collaboration?
  • T2a: What inventive solutions do you/have you seen used to boost collaboration on projects?
  • T2b: Why do you think they work?
  • T3: What is something that you struggle with? Let’s crowdsource potential solutions!

Photo credit:

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