What makes a primary care network healthy?

(Edmonton) Chances are many Albertans have made their way into one of the 40 primary care networks (PCNs) in the province. The Primary Care Initiative, which was established in 2003 and currently has 2,500 provincial doctors working in these settings, redefines how health care is delivered in the province.

In this model, doctors and other health-care professionals, such as nurses and physiotherapists, work as a team in the same facility to develop comprehensive, multi-level delivery that focuses on their patients’ health-care needs.

Now, a new Alberta School of Business study offers insight into what factors might improve the “health” of new PCNs.

University of Alberta researcher Trish Reay and her colleagues studied the first eight adoptees to the initiative and drew conclusions that suggest what made five of those that transitioned to the PCN model successful:

  • Engaged managers: Health-care managers were important catalysts for change within the setting, challenging doctors to rethink their methods of practice and subscribe to a multidisciplinary approach to delivering patient care.
  • Redefined space: The space was reshaped to incorporate the new health-care practitioners in a meaningful fashion that fostered communication and emphasized teamwork.
  • Creative discord: Disagreements were encouraged to foster discussions that would allow for collaborative input from all health-care practitioners. Such conversations led to improved communications and effective solutions.

Reay says the doctors who were part of the study were enthusiastic about the PCN model because it gave them greater freedom to practice medicine the way they want, provided for maintained contact with their patients and offered them great work-life balance.

She adds that patients are also clearly benefiting from this model of delivery.

“They like the fact that they see their physicians still, but they don’t have to rely on those quick office visits in order to ask questions, get more information and learn about whatever it may be that they have,” she said. “The client has a better and, I think, more effective experience in terms of learning to manage their own life and be healthy.”

The study was published in Health Care Management Review.