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Province pegs more money for primary care networks

Falls short on promise for Family Care Clinics

By: Amy Crofts

  |  Posted: Saturday, May 03, 2014 06:00 am

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An additional $32 million in funding will be put towards Primary Care Networks to extend clinic hours and attach patients to a family doctor, the Alberta government announced Thursday.

The province also unveiled a new comprehensive vision for primary health, based on the concept of a medical home, designing care around patients rather than diseases, programs or funding.

The goal is to shift the system’s emphasis onto the social determinants of health, educate patients and better manage chronic disease, said Health Minister Fred Horne.

“About five per cent of Albertans use 65 per cent of the healthcare resources in the province. That five per cent is largely comprised of people who are living with chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Many Albertans have two or more of these diseases simultaneously,” he explained.

“When we look at our use of hospitals, we often see these five per cent as people who are admitted to hospital when there is really no good reason they need to be.”

With the funding boost, patients should be seeing some changes in the coming year, said Dr. Dr. Phillip van der Merwe, chair of the primary care alliance.

This includes being notified of whether their doctor is part of a PCN, receiving a list of services the PCN offers, extended after hours care at clinics and increasing same day or next day access for office visits.

“They will also be invited to take positions on our governing board in PCNs because we want to hear from citizens and elicit their very valuable perspectives,” added van der Merwe.

The additional funding is promising for primary care in Alberta, said Dr. Darryl LaBuick, president of the St. Albert and Sturgeon PCN.

“The one thing that Alberta Health has to do is create an environment of stability – stability around structure, funding and strategy. I think we're heading in the right direction and what we're starting to see is a longer term commitment to the stability of primary care,” noted LaBuick.

Last year 13 St. Albert and Sturgeon PCN clinics participated in a program to extend after hours care by an additional 2,500 hours. Between April 1, 2013 and March 31, 2014 more than 11,000 patients were seen.

Almost 700 patients that now have a PCN doctor did not have a family doctor previously.

Ambitious target

Announced Thursday, the province also plans to open nine family care clinics in the fall and has earmarked $45 million to run them.

Family care clinics aim to provide primary care services by enabling greater access to health-care providers, which may not necessarily be doctors but rather nurse practitioners.

There are currently three clinics running. They work separately from the 40 PCNs in the province.

Family care clinics have been met with criticism, as some say the clinics are a duplication of services already available through PCNs, and there is no proof that they work.

In 2012, former premier Alison Redford promised to create 140 family care clinics. That number dropped to 24 this past fall.

“I think that was a very ambitious, perhaps overly ambitious target,” admitted Horne.

“But the focus has been on expanding primary health care services, providing more in the way of community care. It's not really a question about models, it's using the taxpayer dollars that are available in my budget to get people the services they need right now.”

Promising such a large number of clinics was a political mistake, said LaBuick.

“The problem with the family care clinics is that they are a political beast. They shouldn't focus on quantity, they should focus on quality of the clinics that they set up.”

He said the relationship between family care clinics and PCNs is still evolving.

“We're seeing some flexibility by Alberta Health to allow both Alberta Health Services and PCN to develop possible family care clinic models that can enhance present structures (but) the government is still not fully clear yet on what they think they want.”


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