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House calls for health care

By this time next year, anxious Saskatchewan parents will be able to

phone a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week number and get advice about whether

their child’s fever is serious.

The health advice line will be staffed by nurses and should be running

in 2003, said Pat Atkinson, a government MLA and former health

minister. Experiments with such lines have shown people are

appreciative of the service and use emergency rooms less.

Speaking to a conference Oct. 3 about the province’s plans to improve

health care, she said the goal is to get nurses, therapists and doctors

working together in flexible, and sometimes mobile, teams. Saskatchewan

plans to have health teams covering 25 percent of the population within

four years and 100 percent within 10 years.

The teams will not only handle the sick but also work on prevention

issues such as farm safety, diabetes and infant mortality.

Atkinson drew applause from the 200 delegates when she said provinces

may be better off to improve their citizens’ standard of living through

such things as bringing good water to isolated communities, rather than

increasing the health department budget to treat people when they fall

sick.

Delegates at the national conference of community clinics said they

have already been working for decades under the team model and pay

their doctors a salary, not fees for each patient. However, they

pondered why the clinic model has not spread widely other than the 140

in Quebec. Even in Saskatchewan, where the model was originated in the

1962 doctors’ strike, there has never been more than five such clinics.

Part of the reason is rural depopulation, said Kathy Storrie, president

of the board of Saskatoon’s clinic.

“It makes it more difficult to come together and the next generation

hasn’t had the experience of member involvement,” she said.

Stan Rice, who heads the regional health authority around Prince

Albert, Sask., said the clinic model works, but the province must take

it and apply it universally.

Clinics by themselves only reach a small part of the population. The

use of health care teams to come to the patient is a cheaper use of

budgets since 90 percent of people who come to emergency rooms end up

being treated and sent home.

Health care teams will work for rural areas that can’t attract or

retain doctors, said Patrick Lapointe, president of the Canadian

Alliance of Community Health Centre Associations.

Dr. Louis Poulin, chief of staff for the Prince Albert health region,

said doctors will like the health team style when they realize patients

are getting good treatment and medical staff get more time for

themselves and their families. He said in his experience health teams

surpass the hospital environment in terms of palliative care and

diabetic education.

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