Houston has joined a Northern Health project that aims to improve basic, everyday health care by building on the idea of a “primary care home.”
“It’s really about making things more efficient and more seamless for the patient,” says Cormac Hikisch, health services administrator for the Bulkley Valley.
Primary care is the care patients get from the first person they meet in the health system—usually a family doctor.
Although having a family doctor is key, Hikisch said a primary care “home” also requires patients and their doctors to have easy, ongoing access to all the other health workers and information they need to find.
“At any time of day, you’ve got multiple clinicians trying to support one patient who are also supporting dozens, perhaps hundreds of other patients,” Hikisch said. “It’s hard to bring everybody together to make a time-sensitive, patient-centred decision.”
Those thoughts were echoed in a report released this September by the College of Physicians and Family Surgeons.
As well as access to a family doctor, CPFC President Dr. Robert Boulay said Canadian patients want to see better coordination between “specialists, hospital and emergency department care, long term care, pharmacies, labs, diagnostic imaging, physiotherapy and other treatment centres or services needed in their own homes.”
As well as healthier patients, the CPFS report said such coordination will create a healthier system—one with shorter wait lists, less pressure on emergency rooms and lower long-term costs.
But right now, Canada ranks “well below” other developed countries on a few of the things that might help, said the CPFC. For example, Canada lags behind world leaders on same-day access to a family doctor, after-hours care and the use of electronic medical records.
In northern B.C., the primary care home project is still in early stages.
Houston joined in October. Six other areas, including Fraser Lake and Prince George, started earlier in 2011.
As expected, Hikisch said health workers in the original six communities found many examples of “siloed” care.
But Hikisch said they also collected data to identify the most common diseases in those communities—the kind of chronic problems all health workers should know about and tackle in a coordinated way.
“The whole health system needs to get involved if a particular disease is strong in a community,” said Hikisch.
In Prince George, for example, depression, hypertension and congestive heart failure were identified as the top three chronic diseases.
Similar work is being done in Houston now, Hikisch said, and Smithers will join the project in February.
By summer, he said Houston and Smithers should be ready to link up and share their primary care findings on with other participating towns.