Making time for that vital “one more thing” in health care

Posted on March 11, 2023 in Health Delivery System

Source: — Authors: – Opinion/Contributors
March 11, 2023.   By Alika Lafontaine, Contributor

Countless potential improvements flow from getting foundational health care elements right, putting patients first every step of the way.

Every medical school applicant gets asked why they want to be a doctor. That “why” carries you through years of expensive, exhausting training.My own “why” was trust. I trusted doctors with intimate life details and wanted to be that person for others. Trust doesn’t always come quickly, however. It’s earned with every patient encounter. And it’s why there’s often a “one more thing” moment in patient visits.

After sharing one intimate issue, patients will often share an even more intimate issue they actually want to talk about — the thing that brought them to you. I try to draw these out through long pauses or leading questions. The most impactful health providers are listening for that “one more thing.”

Sadly, finding time for “one more things” is increasingly rare.

Recently, I was in Whitehorse. What I saw was more impressive even than the Northern Lights (no small feat). It was “one more thing” in action and in ways that I would love to see spread across the country.

At the Kwanlin Dün Health Centre, multidisciplinary teams welcome patients like family members. As patients arrive and walk down the hall, people come to their office doors, and say hi. It feels like being wrapped in a warm blanket of support.

Importantly, together they still create time and space for “one more thing.” The clinic itself is both a health centre and a community centre. Regular events help spread awareness on different health topics. They’re marked by rich conversations and, on my visit, bison soup.

Models like Kwanlin Dün do exist elsewhere. In urban southern Canada, they’re typically the model for inner-city health programs for the homeless, those dealing with addictions, and the marginalized. In these places we focus on building more than clinical care. We build a social fabric, binding providers and patients together in a shared health care journey.

Team-based care works. And everyone would benefit from integrated teams of professionals working together to meet the care needs of patients, delivering better patient experiences and faster access. We should all be focused on smoother patient journeys. Wraparound team-based care will ensure timelier, more supportive encounters and better health outcomes.

Team-based care is one of four opportunities for innovation and transformation that Canada’s physicians are calling for as governments hammer out deals and that carve up billions of additional taxpayer dollars.

Another is provider mobility. Too many people, in too many places, have trouble accessing the care they need. Ensuring doctors, nurses, and other health professionals can practise across Canada more easily will help. Atlantic Provinces and Ontario are the first to make real moves in this direction. We’re calling for pan-Canadian licensure to be a priority for policy- and decision-makers.

Next, let’s cut more red tape on data gathering and information sharing. Data needs to be visible, shareable and transparent. We need real-time insights to effectively attack bottlenecks and prevent backlogs. And let’s please cut down on the reams of paper and burden of paperwork that take hours per day away from health professionals’ true purpose: treating patients.

Finally, doing better by health workers means integrated workforce planning on a national scale. Training health professionals takes years, so we need to develop a clear-eyed picture of current and future needs. We need to get foreign-trained health care workers already in Canada off the bench and into the game. Let’s keep professionals already in the game engaged and thriving.

Countless potential improvements big and small flow from getting these foundational elements right, putting patients first every step of the way.

In the midst of “one more things” that health systems continue to impose on health workers, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to prepare finally do health care differently.

We have a choice to stop doing less with more, but more with targeted investment and a plan to think differently, focusing on what matters, and delivering better as patients, practitioners, and policymakers.

Dr. Alika Lafontaine is president of the Canadian Medical Association.

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