As the provincial government continues to work towards transforming Ontario’s healthcare system, the Northern Policy Institute is advocating for more chronic disease supports and access to care in northern Ontario communities.

Their latest report on chronic disease management, Spinning Our Wheels? Chronic Disease Management as a Health Policy Priority for Northern Ontario, highlights barriers that northerners face in the current healthcare system, and suggests new approaches to the medicare model.

“If the barriers Northern Ontarians face because of health disparity are resolved, this will not only induce a better quality of life but will ultimately also reduce overall health care spending,” states the report.

The report states that a major barrier to care is being able to see your healthcare provider when needed, and many use hospital emergency departments for care. The report states that in Northern Ontario, roughly 60 per cent of emergency room visits could have been avoided.

“Professional isolation, increased client caseloads, and decreased access to continuing education opportunities are just some of the challenges Northern health professionals face," said authors Christina McMillan Boyles RN, Zoe Higgins, Celisse Olivia Bibr and Nabina Sharma, all PhD students. "As a result, health care professionals tend to choose to work in larger centres, such as Sudbury or Thunder Bay.”

In 2013, 200 specialist vacancies were reported in Northern Ontario. These vacancies included respirologists, gerontologists, neonatologists, cardiologists and infectious disease specialists.

The authors also discuss the need to think about best practices and models of care that would benefit those with chronic conditions. They say an approach that addresses the root causes of or contributing factors of an illness, such as social factors like income, housing and education, is needed in northern Ontario.

As well, another specific approach they suggest is INSPIRED: Implementing a Novel and Supportive Program of Individualized care for patients and families living with REspiratory Disease. While this model is operating in Ontario, none are implemented in Northern Ontario. The authors say that its needed in Sioux Lookout and Thunder Bay.

Healthcare professionals in the region are currently working to transform the area’s healthcare system, as partners work to create and develop the new All Nations Hospital. Public healthcare forums have gathered the community’s input throughout the month.

Northern Ontario accounts for roughly 91 per cent of the province’s land mass, with only 6 per cent of the population.

For more information:
Northern Policy Institute – Chronic Disease Management
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