KEEPING people away from hospital emergency rooms is a goal of a shift in how the Northern Health Authority does its business in the northwest.

Better care is goal of northwestern B.C. health changes

Plan is to improve communications between physicians and other health services

THE Northern Health Authority wants to ease frustrations by patients needing treatment for complex conditions by improving communications between family physicians and the authority’s own services.

The changes, scheduled to begin here in mid-June, are intended to improve the transfer of patient information between offices and ensure that patients have an overall care plan.

“What we hear coming from patients and healthcare providers is that the challenges are related to communication between our services and the [doctors’] offices,” says Penny Anguish, the authority’s most senior official in northwestern B.C.

“This work is about better communication, better care planning, and having a care plan.”

The health authority has identified 17 nurses who right now work in mental health, home care and public health for new roles, joining family physicians to determine which patients require complex health treatment.

The plan is to then relay patient needs to a team of healthcare providers who will design a care plan and coordinate with further services.

Authority officials expect to cut down on the need for multiple referrals, reduce long wait times and reduce pressures on emergency rooms while also centralizing health records so patients do not have to provide the same information a number of times between offices.

The new system will also allow for patients to have more input in their treatment, though whether patients will meet directly with the nurses or the care team in Terrace has not yet been determined.

The patient list includes people with mental health and substance use issues, those with chronic diseases, pregnant and parenting families, the elderly and children with complex health issues.

Northern Health hopes to link doctors’ offices with mental health and addictions services, home and palliative care, and public health care which presently operate independently.

“They will work with those [family] practitioners in a much different way than they do now, we have to figure out almost practice by practice how that will work,” explained Anguish.

Patients with straightforward health issues will not see any changes in their care, said Anguish.

No new staff will be hired and Anguish says that the program will fit into the existing budget.

“In this transition we are not reducing positions and there are not new positions to create at this particular time, we’re basically taking the resources we have a realigning them,” she remarked.

“Down the road – depending on what becomes obvious that we don’t have in a team – there might be some changes.”

“We know there is a lot of duplication in the work now . . . overall there is the potential to actually reduce the workload [on staff],” she said.

The team of healthcare providers which will design care plans will include social workers, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, mental health clinicians and life skills workers in addition to physicians when these services are available in the community.

The concept has already been tested out in Prince George, Fort St. John and Fraser Lake with much success, according to Anguish.

“We’ve learned from that some of the things that have worked well and some of the affects on the care being received,” she said.

The success of the program will depend on health outcomes and patient satisfaction surveys. There are no information sessions or public consultations planned for Terrace, she said.

The implementation of the changes will be staged and will begin with just two nurses in the northwest while Northern Health figures out the logistics of the changes.