Last weekend, on a drive up to Toronto, Doug and I were listening to the radio. Most specifically, we were listening to a Ted Talk about health care. The person speaking was a young lady who had been doing some kind of internship in a medical centre. While she was there, she asked the doctors all sorts of questions. One question in particular changed everything.
She asked the doctors what they would do if they could change the way they provided service.
The doctors said that they would take more time with each patient to find out what they really needed. The said that they were frustrated with having to prescribe antibiotics for someone with recurring infections or inhaler refills for a child whose asthma is triggered by cold...knowing that the family could not afford to pay their heating bills. They were so busy that all they did was write prescriptions to treat the condition, not solve the underlying issue.
It was about getting people healthy. Not keeping people healthy.
This girl took it upon herself to change how the clinic worked and the interview was about the changes that had been made.
Now, when a patient comes in, the first person they meet with asks them all sorts of questions. Not questions about their health but questions about their lives. Questions like "do you run out of food before the end of the month? Do you life in a safe place? Do you have trouble paying your utility bills? Do you have access to fresh fruits and vegetables?".
They then meet with the doctor for the medical reason they came about (ex. refills for their child's asthma inhaler).
The doctor then writes a prescription. Or two. Or three.
They write a prescription for refills but they might also write one for heat. Or fresh produce.
The person is then sent to the last stop - to meet with a highly trained community advocate that helps connect them to community resources. Resources such as a local food bank. Or a community garden. Other times, they advocate for the person by calling the heating company to apply for reduced billing due to low income.
The clinic now gets people healthy again and then helps keep them that way.
Pretty amazing stuff eh?
I took notes in the car as we drove. It got me thinking about the presentation I'm doing in a few weeks at a conference on diabetes. To diabetes doctors. And nurses. And dieticians. And all sorts of other people who help people like us.
I don't think it's realistic to ask them to prescribe heat and fresh veggies to people they support but I do think it's a pretty powerful message to ask them to really think about the person sitting in front of them. As a whole person. With life challenges and stressors and children at home and work deadlines and unpaid bills and depression and whatever else that person in front of them might have hidden in their back pocket.
Health care has got to be about more than the label of illness and the test results. It should be about helping people to get healthy and, more importantly, helping them stay that way.