NEWS

Connecting the community with family physicians

Northern Connection Medical Centre officially opens its doors

Staff members of the Northern Medical Services Centre
Staff members of the Northern Medical Services Centre, from front to back: Dr. Ken Hahlweg, Corrine Orr and Kelli Kochie
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Facts about the clinic

Linking care after hours using technology

Winnipeg Health Region
Published Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Winnipeg Health Region and the University of Manitoba have joined forces to establish a new medical centre in Winnipeg to support the needs of northern Manitobans.

The Northern Connection Medical Centre (NCMC), 425 Elgin Avenue is designed with a dual purpose in mind: To provide primary care and other medical services for northern and remote residents who are temporarily in Winnipeg, while a the same time helping train medical residents to become family physicians who will work in northern and remote locations.

In addition, the centre will also serve as the home base for some of the Winnipeg Health Region physicians who work with the University of Manitoba's Northern Medical Unit flying into northern communities to provide care.

Health Minister Theresa Oswald acknowledged the twin benefits of the centre, which officially opened today. "Patients from up north who need primary care while in the city will be able to access it more easily," she said. "Medical residents with an interest in working in remote and northern communities are being trained and getting experience dealing with patients from those communities and are being encouraged to continue working with these communities once they finish their residency."

The centre was developed with resident training mind, says Kelly Lukaszewski, Project Manager of the Northern/Remote Residency Stream, Department of Family Medicine with the University of Manitoba.

As part of the centre's operations, residents will be supervised by the equivalent of four full-time family physicians. They will spend their first year of family medicine residency in Winnipeg, with a portion of that training occurring at NCMC. They will spend much of the second year in northern/remote locations like The Pas, Flin Flon, Thompson, Churchill, Rankin Inlet and a number of First Nations communities.

Northern residents from designated First Nations communities can also receive primary care services at NCMC when they are in Winnipeg. That means regardless of whether they're in their home community or Winnipeg, there's a good chance they'll be receiving care from the same family physician.

"This happened by design," says Lukaszewski, "Physicians who work here teaching part-time are also fly-in physicians to northern communities. Seeing the same clients is good for continuity."

For example, a northern resident may need an ultrasound test which isn't available in their home community, requiring a trip to Winnipeg for the test. Previously, this patient might have ended up in an emergency room in order to get the test and receive the follow-up care.  Now, that same patient can be referred to Winnipeg get the test done and the follow-up care can be provided at the Northern Connection Medical Centre. The bonus is the clinic is staffed by the same physician who may have ordered up the ultrasound for the patient.

The centre will support northerners in other ways. Students from remote areas who are attending school in Winnipeg, for example, will be able to access primary care services. The clinic can also help support northern residents should they be evacuated because of a forest fire or some other natural disaster. 

"This is another way in which the Winnipeg Health Region is here for aboriginal patients," says Dr. Catherine Cook, Vice President of Population & Aboriginal Health for the Region. "We continue to provide aboriginal language interpreters, discharge planners, and traditional ceremonies throughout the health region and with this specialized centre, we expand accessible services for our aboriginal patients coming from other communities."

In addition to serving northern residents the clinic will also provide primary care to medical students and the families of military personnel based in Winnipeg. 

While military personnel are eligible to receive primary care from physicians on the base, their partners and families are not. For these people, who are stationed in Winnipeg only temporarily, securing a family physician can be a challenge, particularly when you're not familiar with the area.

"It's definitely filling a need that was identified at the highest level," says Major Tom McCormack, a doctor whose mandate is to work with air force personnel. "We're happy this support is available for military families."

The military has sent out notices to let people know new posts and their families are able to access the clinic. It is anticipated the clinic will see an increase in traffic between June and September, the period of time when most families post in or out.

Military personnel have toured the clinic and are impressed with the space provided. "I'm sure it will be well-received," says Lieutenant Colonel June Zuorro, Wing Administration Officer. "The biggest need is when families come into the area. We want to help them find a doctor as soon as possible. We're confident the clinic is going to help out."

Facts about the clinic

  • The centre – with an operating budget of $1.2 million – is supported by Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg and affiliated with the University of Manitoba and is part of an innovative program designed to increase the number of primary care physicians in Manitoba’s northern and remote communities.
  • The clinic is committed to being as paperless as possible, and opened using an electronic medical record.
  • Half of the clinic’s schedule is earmarked for same day/next day appointment.
  • The clinic has two sets of Telehealth equipment to support communicating with remote communities and education. Click here to read more about Telehealth.
  • Every medical resident who travels up north takes a tech kit that includes a laptop, camera, memory cards and equipment to connect them to the internet. They can link into Telehealth to have conversations with their colleagues or participate in education sessions.
  • The clinic shares the lower level of 425 Elgin Avenue with the Manitoba Home Nutrition Program and the BridgeCare Clinic.
  • Establishing the space and acquiring staff – while seeing patients – has been the focus over the past few months.
  • The clinic welcomes a new group of residents on July 1st.

Linking care after hours using technology

The clinic is piloting after hours access as part of the Care Link project, along with ACCESS Downtown and the BridgeCare Clinic.

Typically when people have health concerns, they’re advised to call Health Links-Info Santé or visit an emergency department.

Here’s how it works. People who are patients at one of the three clinics have access to medical consultation 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If they were to call the clinic after hours, they would get a message that says that although the clinic is closed, if they feel they need to speak to the on-call physician, they should stay on the line to link with the provincial health care call centre.

The call is then answered and triaged by a nurse, who will take a careful history and will determine one of four dispositions:

  • the nurse may advise the person to go to their nearest emergency department
  • the person is carefully instructed on how to take care of the concern themselves
  • the person is asked phone next business day to make an appointment with their family doctor
  • the physician on-call is paged

Technology makes the fourth option a much different prospect than it would have been years ago. The on-call physician has a laptop where they can access the patient’s electronic records. At a glance, they can look at the patient’s medication history, their recent visits to the doctor and concerns. Along with writing a prescription or making a medication change, the physician can immediately update the person’s record with the latest information.

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