February 26, 2009
Primary Care Networks (PCNs) are improving access to primary health care services across the province by tailoring their services to the populations they serve. Two PCNs – Provost/Consort and Edmonton Southside -- have developed local solutions to address the challenge of improving access to services and health professionals.
The Provost/Consort PCN is taking a proactive approach to manage the health of its older population. Each week a multidisciplinary team meets with the staff at the local seniors’ lodge to discuss any concerns and to see patients who require care. The team consists of a physician, a pharmacist, a physiotherapist and home care, mental health and palliative care health professionals.
Dr. Deon Erasmus, physician lead for the Provost/Consort PCN, explained that the average age of lodge residents is 87. The team’s goal is to help them maintain their health so that they won’t need to be admitted into an acute care or long-term care setting.
“The response has been very positive from both staff at the lodge and the residents,” said Dr. Erasmus. “The program is still relatively new, but we’re seeing improved health among the lodge residents. As a result, we’re also starting to see decreases in admissions to acute care and shorter wait times for long-term care.”
In the Edmonton Southside PCN, the use of multidisciplinary teams has been particularly helpful in managing chronic diseases. Nurse practitioners can follow up with patients and help prevent a chronic condition from becoming a serious situation – good for the patient and good for the health system.
“In the past the family physician has been all things to all people,” said Dr. Irene Colliton, physician lead for the Edmonton Southside PCN. “Once patient care is shared with other health professionals, we find we can see more patients and provide more comprehensive follow up care.”
Dr. Colliton cites the example of a new patient in for a prenatal visit. In the past she would spend 40 minutes or more with the patient to gather all of the information she needed. Now other members of her team do some of the preliminary information gathering, which frees up her time to see more patients.
Collaborating with other health professionals also ensures more patient-focused care with the most appropriate health provider assigned.
Some clinics are also involved in Alberta Access Improvement Measures (AIM), a provincial initiative designed to help physicians reduce or even eliminate waits for and at appointments. By following a proven set of principles, clinics can increase access to care, improve practice efficiency and enhance clinical care.
Julie Shemanchuk, provincial program planner for Alberta AIM, believes that family physician clinics within Primary Care Networks are ideal environments for AIM because they are already changing the way they provide care. “AIM is not just a list of strategies that a clinic can follow to improve access. It’s an entire shift in culture that means taking a new approach to the way clinics are run.”
“As part of meeting provincial goals to improve care for Albertans, Primary Care Networks are helping people find family doctors and get after hours care, improving wait times for appointments and taking services to hard to reach populations,” says Lee Hall, Director for the Primary Care Initiative Office. “PCNs are being innovative in using a variety of methods to improve access. It’s really a case of finding local solutions for local needs.”
In PCNs a group of family physicians work with their provincial health region to improve access to care for all Albertans. A focus of PCNs is care of patients living with chronic diseases or complex health issues. PCNs also increase the access family physicians and their patients have to health services provided by other health care team members such as nurses, pharmacists, dieticians, social workers, and others health professionals.
PCNs are a made-in-Alberta approach to improve the delivery of primary care: A patient’s first point of contact with the health system, most often a family physician. Alberta Health and Wellness, Alberta Medical Association and Alberta Health Services oversee the development of Primary Care Networks.
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