The Georgian Bay Family Health Team, serving Collingwood and the surrounding area, has hired 8 Allied Health Care Professionals to initiate their services in September. Four Mental Health Counsellors, a Dietitian, a Diabetes Nurse Educator, a Registered Nurse and a Nurse Practitioner are some of the professionals hired to meet the demands of the Georgian Bay residents’ health care needs. Family Health Teams are the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care’s answer to help alleviate the strain on the health care system. It is the goal of this new initiative to provide better access to care, reduce waiting times and provide care closer to home. The team will assist in the development of strategies for chronic disease management and health promotion to ensure prevention of serious health conditions such as diabetes and cancer. The eight health care workers hired will be assisting family doctors in meeting these goals.
The Minister of Health and Long-Term Care states: “One of the greatest challenges faced by patients today in the province of Ontario is more limited access to doctors than any of us would prefer. Family Health Teams are a response to that. Our government has determined, along side a lot of professionals, that an interdisciplinary approach to care where we bring a team of people together to create a broader circle of care results in more comprehensive care being provided to patients and also provides us with the opportunity to use all of our health care professionals to the maximum extent of their capabilities. This shared responsibility for providing care allows us to extend that care to more Ontarians, which I think we all agree is a fundamental necessity of a well functioning public health care system. Family Health Teams are at the centre of the response to this challenge.”
With so many “orphaned patients” (people without a family doctor) going to walk-in clinics, emergency rooms or to large city centre health care clinics such as Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, the cost of health care is skyrocketing.
Family Health Teams have been created to help alleviate the need for patients to go to such emergency settings. Instead, educational sessions and other lengthy non-diagnostic appointments previously administered by over-stretched family doctors may be handled by specially trained Allied Health Professionals such as Dietitians, Diabetes Nurse Educators, or Mental Health Counsellors, as appropriate. This provides better, faster care to the patient and frees up the doctor to see more patients for diagnosis and “physician-required” appointments. For example, after a diagnosing a patient as diabetic, the doctor could then refer that patient to the Diabetes Nurse Educator and/or Dietician for education instruction, nutritional counselling, and monitoring.
One of the most important aspects of the Family Health Team system is the development of screening and health promotion systems. Preventing diseases like stroke, diabetes and sexually transmitted diseases through education and counselling is not only better for the patient, but will ultimately save the health care system real dollars. One of the new Registered Nurses hired by the Georgian Bay Family Health Team will be dedicated to setting up systems to ensure all identified patients have screening tests for breast, colorectal and prostate cancer, and other tests which should be done on a regular basis. Prevention and early detection are essential to improving care.
Dr. Gandhi, a family physician in Stayner and the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Health Team, is excited about the development of the team: “The reality is that the family doctors in our area work extremely hard to look after their patients. But they can’t do everything. These additional staff will help them by providing support for educating patients about their illnesses, and helping to prevent a worsening of their condition, thus leading to a healthier population.” Dr. Gandhi also noted that the commitment and support from the Ministry has been exemplary.
The Georgian Bay Family Health Team is currently comprised of 21 associated Family Physicians (and growing), 8 allied health professionals and 2 administrative support personnel. The GBFHT has funding for more positions and are still actively recruiting. The team is temporarily located at the After Hours Clinic on Hurontario Street in Collingwood but will be relocating to its permanent headquarters in January 2008.
If you would like more information about this topic, or to schedule an interview with Marie LaRose, the Executive Director, please call the Georgian Bay Family Health Team at 705-444-5885 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.