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Chronic care

$12 million given to chronic care networks

VANCOUVER - With the official launch of 25 integrated health networks (IHNs) across the province, close to 50,000 British Columbians with chronic health conditions will have improved access to health services through a team-based and coordinated approach to patient care, announced Health Services Minister George Abbott.

The 25 IHNs will receive an initial annual operating budget of $12 million. IHNs are a key element of B.C.’s Primary Health Care Charter, which was launched by the Province in May 2007. The charter focuses on improving access to the many benefits of primary healthcare for British Columbians, from birth to end of life.

“These 25 integrated health networks are located in every region of the province and move us closer to our goal of ensuring that patients living with chronic health conditions will be able to access 24-hour, clinically appropriate care that is currently only available in emergency rooms,” said Abbott. “Integrated health networks place an emphasis on including patients as partners in care and are one way for us to reduce pressure on our current health system and to meet the challenges associated with an aging population.”

Team care benefits patients living with several chronic illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, kidney or heart disease.

An IHN is a partnership between a patient and a team of health professionals. Led by the patient’s family physician, the health network team may consist of nurses, dietitians, pharmacists, specialist physicians and community agencies. This method of care recognizes that patients play a key role in their own health care and in the redesign of the health system. Along with family members and caregivers, patients are an integral part of the IHN team.

“This is a much better way to work – both for the patients and the family doctors. Before the integrated health network, it was really difficult to support my patients with chronic illness to connect with the services they needed in the community and in the health system,” said Dr. Ellen Anderson, family physician, Sooke Integrated Health Network. “Now that I am learning to work as part of a team, my patients get connected more efficiently and supported more effectively, and they feel more engaged in managing their own health concerns. I am able to do my job better and I enjoy it more.”

“Patients, physicians and other health professionals working in partnership with their health authority and the Ministry of Health Services to improve patient centered care is definitely better medicine and the right thing to do for the health of British Columbians with chronic health issues,” added Anderson.

Through the IHN, the patient’s family physician co-ordinates the patient’s care and works with other members of the team, including the patient, to develop a health-care plan that is tailored to the needs of the patient and supported by local community resources. All members of the care team will work from this care plan and are familiar with the patient’s medical history, test results and all other elements of care.

“The family physician brings to the team valuable information about the patient, the patient’s condition and history of care,” said Dr. Bill Mackie, president of the BC Medical Association. “With that knowledge, the physician can develop a patient ‘care plan’ and involve other necessary health-care providers to best co-ordinate medical services, tests and procedures.”

Other focuses of the IHN include patient education; life coaching and solution-focused counselling; group clinical visits; links to home and community care, medical specialists and local hospital transition teams.

“The Canadian Mental Health Association’s Bounce Back program is experiencing great success as an IHN community partner and is providing telephone coaching support to people living with chronic conditions and suffering from depression and anxiety,” said Bev Gutray, executive director of CMHA BC Division.