A new approach to health care

Northern Health is introducing a family-centered model of care.

Northern Health has recently announced it is moving toward a model of primary and community care that centres on a person’s health-care needs and their family.

This transition involves the creation of inter-professional teams who will work closely with primary care physicians and nurse practitioners. The inter-professional teams will be made up of nurses and a variety of health professionals that may include social workers, physiotherapists, and occupational therapists.

In this new approach, the person and their family will be involved as equal partners with the inter-professional team in developing their plan of care from the start.

According to Cathy Ulrich, Northern Health’s President and Chief Executive Officer, each inter-professional team will be different in order to meet the needs of each community across Northern B.C.

“Taking a community specific approach will enable health services to be designed to meet the unique health care needs of each community,” she said.

The transition is already taking place in several communities served by Northern Health, including Burns Lake.

Marie Hunter, Northern Health Lakes District Health Service Administrator, said that although this will be a lengthy transition, people are already being trained in Burns Lake. Northern Health will soon be hiring two more nurses for Burns Lake’s inter-professional team. Hunter said this new approach is about empowering family members to participate in the care of their loved ones.

“Families used to be moved to the edges, and now they are being included.”

Hunter said patients tend to spend a short period of time in the health care setting, spending the majority of their time at home with family.

“At home they are managed by a wide group of people,” she said. “The inter-professional team would be including the family because they [family members] would be part of the team.”

Hunter said prevention of illnesses and promotion of wellness is far superior than being reactive to illnesses.

“Teaching about how to be healthy and have early diagnosis is really important,” she said.

Although the current clinic in Burns Lake is located across the road from the hospital, Hunter said that in the future people will be able to also consult with a physician in the primary care area inside the new hospital.

Health minister Terry Lake said this new approach will enable better long-term health outcomes.

“Northern Health’s model is a great example of how we are working towards a more patient-and-family centered approach to health care,” he said. “This approach means they can shorten wait times, reduce pressure on emergency rooms and make health care more sustainable over the long-term.”

Lake added that these changes are becoming increasingly important with the aging population in British Columbia, and the existing challenges of delivering services in rural and remote areas of the north.

According to Kristy Anderson, Manager of Media Relations for the Ministry of Health, key to having efficient and effective care in emergency departments is to help patients avoid the emergency room in the first place.

“That’s why the Ministry of Health, health authorities, health care providers, and other stakeholders are currently working together to enhance primary and community care in the province through a number of initiatives,” she explained. “This work is about shifting more of our emphasis into community-based care rather than hospital-based care.”

This new approach to health care will also include the development of a central health record as opposed to multiple electronic and paper records.

“This approach will be particularly helpful for people who require coordinated services and follow-up over the long-term and a rapid response to emerging issues,” explained Jonathon Dyck, a spokesperson with Northern Health. “This could include seniors, pregnant and parenting families, those with mental health and substance use issues, people with complex chronic diseases, and children with complex health issues.”

Northern Health first made the commitment to integrated primary care and community services in 2012 and   inter-professional teams in Fort St. John, Fraser Lake and Prince George.