The book on health

(Edmonton) A booklet to educate inner-city residents about when to seek medical attention and where they can get the help they need was officially launched March 13.

For the last year, medical researchers from the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry have worked with a group of inner-city residents and staff from Streetworks, a non-profit program operated by inner city agencies, to create a mini publication called I’m Sick Now What?!

The booklet explains when it is appropriate to go to an emergency room and when it’s appropriate to visit a walk-in clinic or family doctor’s office instead. It also explains what inner-city residents need when they see a doctor, what to expect during an appointment, why various tests are needed, the roles of different people in the health-care system and proper etiquette. A few different scenarios describing common health problems are outlined, too.

The booklet has received positive feedback so far, says Les Umpherville, an inner-city resident and an outreach worker with Streetworks. Before it was developed, people living in the inner city were surveyed to see what they needed.

“Most of the clients we surveyed were happy to see we were concerned about how they felt, and what they thought were important issues in regards to how the health-care system treats them,” said Umpherville. “Overall, the development of this booklet was a great success. Community residents are saying they are glad something like this came out because it gives them good information about how to go to doctors’ offices and hospitals.”

Umpherville, inner-city residents and the Streetworks team worked with two members of the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry in designing the booklet: Ginetta Salvalaggio, a practising family physician and researcher with the Department of Family of Medicine, and Kathryn Dong, an emergency medicine physician and researcher in the Department of Emergency Medicine. Both see inner city patients routinely in their central Edmonton clinical practices and have worked on various initiatives to improve care for inner-city residents.

Salvalaggio says she thinks the booklet “has made a difference because it gave people a tool to talk about how to get the health-care help they need.”

A second part of the clinical research project focused on better educating residents and emergency and family physicians via workshops about a system designed to assess addiction in family and emergency medicine settings.

The system, called Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral for Treatment, helps physicians determine if patients have addictions issues by asking a few simple questions. Doctors can then tell patients whether their drug or alcohol use is considered too high or appropriate, and what the health consequences would be if the substance use continued at the same rate. The workshops also arm physicians with contact information for various community resources for addictions issues. Online videos demonstrate some of the concepts taught in the workshops, as well as different patient perspectives.

“Addictions have a huge burden on individuals and society in regards to increased mortality and health-care costs in general,” says Salvalaggio. “People who suffer from addictions don’t get the health care they need on a timely basis. They spiral to more serious conditions. More intervention is needed through programs like this.”

The pilot project, which focused on the booklet and physician workshops, received $250,000 in funding over two years. It was funded by the former Alberta Alcohol and Drug Abuse Commission and administered through Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions in partnership with the Alberta Family Practice Research Network.