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Ontario Health: An end to hallway healthcare?

Photo credit: Christine Elliott/Facebook

Photo credit: Christine Elliott/Facebook

After months of speculation, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott released details on the Ford Government’s plan to end hallway healthcare.

The announcement includes details on the provincial government’s long-term plan for strengthening the health system, with a specific focus on the needs of patients and families. The plan aims to improve the patient experience by streamlining transitions between healthcare providers; providing round-the-clock support for navigating the system; a centralized agency called “Ontario Health” providing oversight; and improving access to secure digital tools.

Today is only day one. As Minister Elliott reiterated a commitment to publicly-funded healthcare, she also reminded people that these changes will take years to see wide effect on patients. Minister Elliott has extensive experience from her time as Ontario’s first Patient Ombudsman, years spent as the PC Party Health Critic, as well as her own interactions with the healthcare system. She is well suited and has the leadership skills to bring much needed change to our flailing system.

Honing in on system navigation is an intelligent move as navigation has been well documented as one of the top pain points for users of the system. As our population ages, it’s going to become more of an issue as burnt out caregivers and sick patients desperately look to determine next steps in their care. While this plan winds down the LHINs, it includes a vision for patient-centred, community-based care under a model called Ontario Health Teams with a promise for patient coordination, transition and navigation.

Last month, the Premier’s Council on Ending Hallway Healthcare also highlighted the need for digital integration in our healthcare system highlighting that less than 1 percent of medical appointments are conducted virtually and that only 16 percent of Ontarians are able to book medical appointments online. Building on this, there were also many mentions of technology in Minister Elliott’s remarks, and we all know many examples of how technology can improve the patient experience. It will be interesting to see the scaled-up use of virtual care, patient access to electronic health records and online appointment booking systems. There are, no doubt, massive gains to be made in terms of patient access and experience.

As anyone who has used the system personally or supported their families in getting care can likely attest—the current system is not patient-centred, and it’s not sustainable. In the last month alone, a colleague here at NATIONAL sat with her 80-year-old mom in a cold Toronto emergency room, helping her to navigate incredibly important follow-up appointments for cardiovascular assessment, while relaying her health and medication history (again) to yet another provider. Weeks later, the same colleague sat in a walk-in clinic with her 6-year old for almost three hours on a week night knowing this was the best option outside of sitting in a crowded emergency room over the dinner hour. To top it off, while sitting there she overheard the receptionist ask a patient on the phone to fax in a much needed form to ensure he received proper follow up. FAX! We deserve better.

Important to note this announcement comes a week after the arbitrator’s decision on a four-year contract with Ontario’s doctors. This milestone is significant after years of a tumultuous relationship with Ontario’s doctors and government; ending the war with doctors is a key to moving health system change forward. Working under a much needed and fair agreement, hopefully doctors and government will move conversations away from compensation and job action to respectful conversations around public policy and patient care. Front-line providers will be a key to success in the much needed transformation the system desperately needs.

Many groups and governments have claimed to put patients first. The proof will be in the pudding on this—in theory reducing bureaucracy to redirect precious funding to front-line care should put the patient at the centre. But, organizations like Cancer Care Ontario and Trillium Gift of Life perform critical roles in care delivery, so the details of integration will be pertinent.

Change is hard. Especially the type of monumental change that is afoot in Ontario’s health system, which accounts for 40% of Ontario’s budget. While this is a transformative announcement, further details and implementation timelines are still to come—so stay tuned! And if you’re a healthcare provider with innovative, patient-centred ideas or a company that has digital solutions to healthcare service delivery? Talk to our Healthcare and Public Affairs teams to find out how we can best position you in the evolving Ontario healthcare landscape.