The healthcare system in Ontario is over-burdened and strained. Patients languish in the hallways of hospitals, lying on stretchers or waiting in emergency rooms, waiting to be allotted to a room so that their treatment can begin. This situation is not normal. Patients and their caregivers come under immense stress due to a lack of access to proper health services, supervision and follow-up, comfort and even a basic right to privacy. Navigating the system is very hard, getting a family member into long-term care is even harder while securing cancer care carries its own challenges. The condition of many patients worsens daily as they wait interminably in the hallway, waiting for a bed. What’s more, access to mental health and addiction services is often denied to patients who need it on an urgent basis.
The reasons for this are many:
- Overcrowding due to a surge in demand for beds, as in the annual flu season. Occupancy is found to be unsustainable at almost all times.
- 15% of the acute care beds (about 3000 beds) are generally occupied by patients who are medically discharged but waiting for an “alternate level of care” to be arranged, like a long-term care space, rehab bed or adequate home care arrangements.
- Too many patients go to hospital emergency rooms which are open 24×7, for conditions that could get treated elsewhere.
- Hospitals fail to use existing beds as efficiently as possible.
- Home care and community-based mental health care have insufficient capacity with an inadequate number of beds to meet the health needs of the province and its population.
Let’s look at some numbers for Ontario’s healthcare processes:
- Average wait times in Ontario: 16.3 hours in June 2019 against 14.4 hours in June 2018, while touching a peak of 18.3 hours in the flu season in January 2019.
- The lowest time of 3.6 hours was recorded at the four-bed Lion’s Head Hospital in rural Bruce Peninsula while the Greater Niagara General Hospital clocked an average wait time of 37.3 hours in June.
- Target time of 8 hours was only met for 34% of patients
- Number of acute-care beds in Ontario hospitals is just 20,000
- However, 6000 more long-term care beds are being built across Ontario.
Ontario Health Teams – A pathway to offer efficient Health Care
Ontario Health Teams plan to ensure that the patient is put at the centre of health care service delivery, which is expected to be built resiliently and managed efficiently. The vision of OHTs includes tackling and ending the problem of hallway care. This has brought a new vision and hope to patients, caregivers as well as health care providers. As an OHT increases the collaboration among health care providers and services become more accessible to patients, we will see Ontario offering a futuristic, more reliable health care system, for its communities.
Technology to the Rescue
The operations of OHTs shall be based on 8 building blocks, of which digital health is one. The aim is to record and share all the digital health records of a patient, among an OHT’s partners. Such adoption of digital health tools helps to streamline and integrate point-of-service systems and use the patient’s health data for effective healthcare delivery, decision support, operational insights, ongoing quality and performance improvement, and better patient experience.
With just one phone call or a visit to one website, patients will be able to access the health system and secure the services they need, for themselves or their family members. Digitized health records will enable emergency departments to access a new patient’s entire medical history, including recent lab reports using their Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) card to provide the best health care possible, in the shortest possible window of time. Health IT in Ontario makes it possible to provide virtual care to a senior patient at home, without a trip to the hospital!
An integrated health care system built around centrally accessible electronic health records shall improve health care processes and make it possible for resources to follow the patient, instead of having the patient come in and experience an agonizing wait in a hospital’s hallway.