Books by Heart: Creating a therapeutic reading environment for cardiology patients
Dr. Gabrielle Horne, a cardiologist, researcher and writer, remembers telling a colleague that IT could be used to improve the spirits of her cardiology patients. The colleague asked Dr. Horne for specifics.
“What if we had an e-book program for patients?” Dr. Horne suggested.
Horne approached Andrew Nemirovsky, senior director IM/IT at Nova Scotia Health, with her idea. Nemirovsky, who’s also a registered nurse, immediately understood.
That comment has since evolved into a project called Books by Heart, which will eventually provide all cardiology inpatients with a tablet linked to a local Wi-Fi network so they can access a selection of e-books and audiobooks written by Atlantic Canadian authors.
“From the moment the idea sparked, that little moment, it’s had a momentum of its own,” Dr. Horne says. “Normally with a new project you have to convince people it’s a good idea. I haven’t had to convince anyone. It’s just caught fire.”
Horne says patients often find themselves in the cardiology unit after going to the emergency department. Many of these patients spend three to six weeks in hospital. About half are from communities outside the Halifax Regional Municipality.
“If you’re on a cardiology ward, you’re afraid,” Dr. Horne says. “You have a serious illness. You have symptoms that could be very serious.
“People are wrenched from their lives very suddenly and put in this unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people. It’s a moment where they need some comfort, and they often need a distraction … there’s a lot of waiting around. We all have different ways of dealing with an experience like that, but I think reading is potentially a very powerful one.”
Dr. Horne says the program could be uplifting for staff, too, from the cleaners to the cardiologists.
“We thought it might be an opportunity for our staff to connect with patients that isn’t about illness,” Dr. Horne says. “The person who cleans the room spends as much time as any of us do with the patient.”
Dr. Horne says they’d like to understand how the project will affect the health of patients. She says what they do know is that cardiology patients face a risk of depression in the period after they go home, which can ultimately affect their lifespans.
Dr. Horne says Gordon McOuat at King’s College will spearhead a program funded by Nova Scotia Health Research to find out more.
“We’re very interested to understand whether having this opportunity to be part of a reading therapeutic environment, whether that might inoculate some of our patients against depression,” Dr. Horne says. “If that were the case, who knows, that could affect their prognosis.”
The Atlantic Publishers Marketing Association is a partner in Books by Heart. Alex Liot, chief marketing officer and interim CEO, says they will collaborate with Dr. Horne on choosing the local books. The selection will also feature the diversity of authors in the region and could include local history or inspirational titles.
“I think we’ll have fun with the selections,” Liot says.
He says the authors whose books are chosen will see benefits, too. They will be compensated, of course, but they’ll also have the exposure of their works to new audiences. And Liot suspects authors will likely feel good that their work is potentially having health benefits for patients.
“We’re finding a new and unique application of a very traditional product to do something potentially for a non-invasive health outcome,” Liot says. “That gives me goosebumps to think that’s something worth measuring.”
Dr. Horne grew up as an avid reader and went on to earn a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction from the University of King’s College. Reading, she says, makes her a better human, and therefore a better doctor.
“It deepens my empathy,” she says. “I think it challenges me with worldviews I never thought about. It touches me emotionally in unexpected ways. It takes me into lives that are hard to imagine. And sometimes I think it’s a necessary escape from our world. … and I think reading gives me a sense of possibility.”
“I remember once weeping in an airport reading his novels.”
Dr. Horne says what she’s looking forward to the most is seeing how the program evolves. “I would love to watch and see whether patients start having different conversations with staff and with each other even,” she says. “Staff have talked about the possibility of a book club on the ward. That would just be fantastic.”