Innovation is imagination

A letter from the Winnipeg Health Region

Winnipeg Health Region President & CEO
Wave, January / February 2011

Arlene Wilgosh

It's not the kind of thing that typically attracts a lot of attention.

But it should.

A couple of years ago, the Winnipeg Health Region embarked on a bit of an experiment: we hired nurse practitioners to work full-time in two personal care homes.

The idea for this innovative approach to the delivery of care was rooted in research done by Lori Lamont, who was working as the Executive Director of the Region's Personal Care Homes program at the time and is now the Region's Chief Nursing Officer.

Across Canada, the medical needs of residents in personal care homes are tended to by family physicians, who usually work in their visits to personal care homes as part of their larger family practice. Although this is standard practice in Canada, Lamont and her colleagues questioned whether personal care home residents, many of whom often need frequent attention, would benefit from having a nurse practitioner based in the residence.

Nurse practitioners are essentially registered nurses with specialized training in primary care and are skilled in diagnosing and treating chronic diseases. They carry out many of the functions of a family doctor, from writing prescriptions to ordering diagnostic tests. Nurse practitioners are not all that common, but their numbers are growing as the health-care system learns how to utilize their skills in various settings, from urgent care centres to personal care homes.

Two nurse practitioners - Preetha Krishnan and Amanda Adams-Fryatt - were assigned to the Lions Personal Care home and the Kildonan Care Centre, respectively.

As our story on page 34 of this issue of Wave points out, the experiment has been a huge success. The nurse practitioners profiled have been able to build strong relationships with residents. As a result, they have been able to help ensure the residents receive better medical care. The numbers tell the story: since the nurse practitioners were assigned, emergency department visits by residents living at the two centres have dropped 43 per cent. The percentage of residents on anti-psychotic medication has dropped from 15.3 per cent to 6.7 per cent at Lions and from 35.2 to 11.5 per cent at Kildonan.

Clearly, the introduction of nurse practitioners has helped the Region enhance the quality of care delivered to residents in these personal care homes. But also important, given the continuing need to be careful with health-care dollars, it has allowed the Region to improve care and save money at the same time.

The major financial savings come from fewer hospital visits, which, coincidentally, also help ease pressure on our emergency rooms, and from a reduction in the amount of anti-psychotic drugs being prescribed to residents.

Of course, this experiment hasn't gone totally unnoticed outside the Winnipeg Health Region. We recently took the opportunity to share the results of our project with surveyors from Accreditation Canada - the organization responsible for reviewing health-care practices in this country. They, in turn, will pass along the information to other health regions.

The introduction of nurse practitioners into personal care homes is but one example of innovation at work. Each and every day, the women and men of the Winnipeg Health Region come to work and imagine how care might be enhanced by doing things differently.

This kind of organizational innovation is often overshadowed in the world of health care by technological innovation or the development of new miracle drugs.

Nonetheless, it remains a critical component of our overall effort to enhance the delivery of care within the Winnipeg Health Region.

That shouldn't come as a surprise. Since its inception just over a decade ago, this organization has been a leader in using innovation to improve care.

That's why, as I noted in my last column in the November/December issue of Wave, we have made innovation one of three key commitments in our new Vision, Mission, Values and Commitments statement. In doing so, we have reaffirmed our commitment as an organization to foster and promote innovation, in ways large and small, to deliver better care to all in our community.


About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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