Adjusting to the responsibilities of life as an adult can be trying at the best of times but the transition can be exacerbated for patients with chronic conditions or mental health concerns.

A new trial program called Alberta’ Transition Navigator Trial is attempting to alleviate the difficulties patients face as they leave pediatric heath care and enter the adult health care system. The trial, which will launch in September of this year, will have two social workers, referred to as navigators with one stationed in Calgary and the other in Edmonton, assist young patients in Alberta as they book appointments and apply for programs.

“Often it’s a frustrating time because you’re adapting to a new care model, new care providers, more complex situations with many more patients within the adult care provider’s portfolio,” explained Susan Samuel, lead of the provincial trial and a pediatric nephrologist at the Alberta Children’s Hospital. “This is something that we’re trying to improve.”

Samuel says the transition to the adult care system comes at a time of great change in the life of a patient that often includes the start of independent living and post-secondary schooling and disruptions to medical treatment could prove life threatening. “It’s our job to prepare our patients really well to adapt to that system,” explained Samuel. “To make sure that they do not fall through the gaps.”

The trial, scheduled to last three years, is seeking 600 patients between the ages of 16 and 21 years old who have a chronic and complex medical or mental health condition.

University student Keighley Schofield has spina bifida and knows firsthand how overwhelming the transition to the adult health care system can be.

“It was like going into an entirely different system from the one that I had known since I was a baby,” recalled Schofield. “I had to book all of my own appointments. I had to figure out how to book those appointments. All my clinics are in different spots all over the city.”

“It was figuring out a new way to do things and a new routine that worked best for me especially with starting university and travelling more on my own and having more responsibilities as a volunteer and as a patient advisor.”

Schofield says navigators will reassure patients that they are not alone in the medical system and there is an outlet for help or answers. She says there is value in the support system. “I definitely hope it is successful and it does get the funding that it needs to continue on and be a permanent thing. I hope we can have more navigators on board so we can help as many kids transitioning as possible.”

Samuel says if the intervention is deemed effective she hopes the navigator program will be adopted nationwide.

For additional information on the trial including eligibility requirements, visit Alberta’s Transition Navigator Trial.

With files from CTV’S Brad MacLeod