UBC Reports | Vol. 51 | No. 10 | Oct. 6, 2005
A Better Way to Share Patient Information
$1.2 m grant establishes first Canadian inter-professional health network in B.C.
By Ai Lin Choo
Days after her first son Quinn was born, Heather Fowlie realized she would have to take his health into her own hands if he were to get any better.
It wasn’t that she didn’t trust local health professionals; the problem was getting them to communicate with each other.
While still in hospital, Fowlie was told her son had multiple birth defects. His esophagus, the body’s swallowing tube, had not grown properly during pregnancy and had attached itself to his trachea, or breathing tube. This meant that any milk or food in his stomach could get into his lungs.
“We realized from very early on that Quinn would require attention from many different health professionals, and we knew that strong teamwork would be key to his recovery,” Fowlie says. “But we found that while there was some collaboration between the various professionals, there was really very little.”
She decided to face the challenge by making sure that meetings were arranged whereby all sides could sit down and discuss Quinn’s health.
“It sounds so basic, but it really wasn’t done enough. When you have so many people attending to a child in a day, things can be duplicated, missed or can easily go wrong,” she explains.
“What was most frustrating was that it took all health professionals involved a long while to include even us. One of our main struggles was simply getting them to talk to us and tell us what was going on.”
Now, eight years later, Fowlie is drawing on her experience to ensure that parents like her will never have to go through what she did.
As a patient representative on the newly-formed Interprofessional Network of B.C. (In-BC), Fowlie is pushing for change in the way knowledge is transferred between professionals, educators, patients and families.
In late May, UBC’s College of Health Disciplines received $1.2 million from Health Canada to develop this province-wide network -- the first of its kind in Canada -- made up of partnerships between health and post-secondary education organizations in B.C.
The college, established in 2002 as academic headquarters for the interprofessional activities of seven UBC faculties engaged in health and human service programs, is now steering the network with the intent of bringing about systemic change in the way health care providers work together to meet patients’ needs.
John Gilbert, principal of the college, explains that numerous studies have shown interprofessional teams enhance patient safety and satisfaction, and improve the work life of many health-care professionals.
In addition to developing new projects in the province, the network is building on a number of programs already underway in B.C., including primary health care, chronic disease management, the Collaboration for Maternal Newborn Health, and the Interprofessional Rural Program of BC.
Gilbert says the network is also looking to change the way students in health faculties approach and understand their professions.
“What we’re trying to do is essentially bring about a shift in mindset where health professionals feel they can admit there are certain things about a patient they simply do not understand, and more importantly, admit when one of their colleagues is more qualified to deal with a particular problem.”
Over the next two years, the college will be working to co-ordinate groups across the province to gather key findings about how knowledge is exchanged across health and education organizations; develop online curricula for students and practitioners; and assess and demonstrate the impact of these projects for patients and communities.
For her part, Fowlie says her experience taught her that much improvement to the health system can come about simply by including and communicating with patients and their families.
“When Quinn was in hospital, he had surgeons, nurses, the intensive care people, ear, nose and throat specialists, physiotherapists, social workers, you name it. We were the ones who were actively getting information from everyone, and we felt we were in the best position to try help co-ordinate things,” she said.
“With this new network, things could really change by having professionals think about what’s best for patients beyond their disciplines, and beyond the individuals who wear the white coats. Sometimes the patients or families themselves can help as well.”
For more information, please visit: www.health-disciplines.ubc.ca.