Northern residents with complex health issues may soon have less referrals and improved care, as NorthernHealth doctors begin teaming up with other health services to solve medical challenges.
The shift towards medical partnerships has been in the works for a number of years, but concrete movement inNorthern Health started last year.
Ciro Panessa, Northern Health’s chief operating officer, said they are developing teams that could includeeverything from primary care nurses to clinicians in mental health and addictions, to social workers,physiotherapists and dietitians.
The goal is for these health services to team up to help patients with more complex health issues.
Northern Health ran pilot projects in Prince George, Fort St. John and Fraser Lake in 2012, and found it to beeffective, so they started talking in 2015 about shifting the rest of the Northern Health.
In Terrace, Panessa said there are a few Park Ave. Medical doctors who are leading the charge in building thosepartnerships.
“At this stage, there’s an initial group that is testing out the new way of working,” explained Panessa. “[This way]we can test out what works well, and what doesn’t in terms of connecting and collaborating in thoseinterprofessional teams.”
Dr. Greg Linton and Dr. Jaco Strydom have been instrumental in leading that work, he said, adding that theirwork will inform a broader rollout with all the physicians in Terrace.
“I’m very excited about this move,” said Panessa, adding that he believes it has potential to make a hugedifference for people.
“I think it will reduce multiple referrals for different community services. I think it will reduce wait times thatpeople experience to access community services, and I think [that] if we can meet [people’s] needs incommunity, it will also reduce pressure on our emergency rooms and our hospitals,” he said.
Alongside of the shift to form interprofessional team, Panessa said Northern Health is looking to develop asystem the teams can share for medical records.
Right now, there is a separate system for every type of service from mental health, to social work, to familydoctor practices.
Some are on paper and some are electronic, and Panessa said they need a shared system for the teams to use.
“We certainly are wanting to have all the interprofessional teams using the same electronic medical recordacross the north,” Panessa said.
“We are currently working toward that … but it’s not finished at this stage. It’s a work in progress.”
He clarified that right now, “it’s not about forcing everyone onto one system. It’s about [getting] our inter-professional teams on one system.”
Overall, it’s a huge, fundamental shift for health professionals, and Northern Health media relations officer ErynCollins noted that changes to collaborative health work will look different in every community.
“In some communities, just the way their local practitioners are set up, [they] already have a bunch of peopleco-located in one place,” she said.
“In larger communities like Prince George, we’ve got doctor’s offices all over the place [and] a lot of differenthealth care services in different buildings, so you have to run all around town to see everybody you need to ifyou have a really complex problem,” she said.
Panessa said that the goal is to roll out the changes slowly so that people can adjust.
“This is a very big shift for us,” he said, adding that there is no firm timeline for the rollout at this point.
“What we are looking for is ongoing incremental change,” he said. It’s “an ongoing work in progress and we’llneed to keep making adjustments as we go.”