Special Report

One-stop shopping for medical care

DANYLO HAWALESHKA June 21 2004
Special Report

One-stop shopping for medical care

DANYLO HAWALESHKA June 21 2004

One-stop shopping for medical care

FOCUS ON PREVENTION IN SAULT STE. MARIE, ONT.

HER REGULAR family doctor wasn’t available, so restaurateur Rosetta Sicoli acted on the recommendation of an acquaintance and tried Sault Ste. Marie’s Group Health Centre. That was in the early 1980s, and Sicoli was troubled by a gynecological problem. “They had me X-rayed, blood-tested, gave me a diagnosis, had me on iron pills, called me at work to get a prescription sent to me, told me to go home,” recalls Sicoli. “I couldn’t believe this was all happening within two or three days.”

Opened in 1963, the Group Health Centre today is considered one of Canada’s most successful primary care facilities. With

58,000 registered patients on its roster, its strength lies in the full spectrum of what it offers under one roof—from family physicians and specialists to laboratory services, a pharmacy and an eyeglass dispensaryand its impressive degree of personalized care. Health czar Roy Romanow has cited the Sault model as the way of the future. Prevention, Romanow argued, is key, and Group Health was breaking new ground.

Sicoli calls it “one-stop shopping”-convenient, even reassuring. Her two elderly parents, who speak only broken English, get almost all their care at the centre, and their doctors phone Sicoli to update her on their conditions. “To me,” she says, “that isn’t typical of big-city, modern-age medicine anymore.” But what the Sault centre also brings to the table is its almost individualized

ability to head off many debilitating illnesses. One of the first larger facilities to get into electronic record-keeping, Group Health’s file-searching capabilities have improved treatment for diabetics and helped cut hospital readmissions for congestive heart failure by at least 30 per cent, says Dr. Lewis O’Brien, a family doctor and the lead physician in the electronic data project.

While successful, the centre is not without its problems. It has a waiting list of over

3,000 area residents who want to get in. Meantime, the centre struggles with the Ontario government for money, having now gone 50 months without a funding agreement. “Although the politicians come through and say good things,” says O’Brien, “when they go back home, they have to deal with bureaucrats, and it’s the bureaucrats who can’t see we’re different.” Maybe a visit to the Sault is what the doc needs to order.

DANYLO HAWALESHKA