PCNs help Albertans manage their health
Four years ago, Wendy Hansuk's diabetes was out of control.
The 59-year-old resident of Viking was stressed out, overweight and overworked and felt her health slipping away, but she had no idea what to do about it.
"I was feeling terrible all the time, but I didn't relate it to the diabetes," she said. "My hours of work were irregular, my eating was atrocious. I didn't realize what I was doing to my body."
Hansuk's doctor knew her patient needed an intervention, so she referred Hansuk to the SMILE program, an initiative of the Leduc-Beaumont-Devon Primary Care Network (LBD-PCN). SMILE, which stands for Self Manage to Improve your Life Everyday, connects diabetes patients to a range of different health practitioners, who help them understand and manage the relationship between the disease and their lifestyle.
For Hansuk, the program was a turning point. A social worker helped Hansuk to identify stressors in her life that were affecting her health and deal with the emotional impact of living with diabetes, a dietician helped her develop a meal plan that would make it easier to manage her blood sugar, and a physiotherapist worked with her to devise an exercise plan that she could fit in around her irregular work hours.
Hansuk said the program has helped her look beyond her diagnosis and see herself as a whole person.
"It's been an enormous change in how I look at myself, how I feel," she said. "I've learned how to handle stress, I've learned how to eat and structure my time. I'm not perfect by a long shot, but I know I have the knowledge."
The SMILE program is just one of the ways the LBD-PCN is helping area residents put more emphasis on wellness and access a complete range of care.
Most people probably don't realize it, but if they've been to see a doctor or other health care practitioner in the past four years, they've interacted with the PCN, said Len Frank, executive director of the LBD-PCN.
The LBD-PCN is one of 35 primary care networks established across Alberta since 2005 under an agreement between Alberta Health Services, the former Regional Health Authorities and the Alberta Medical Association. The goal of PCNs is improving patients' experiences with the health care system while ensuring the system's long-term sustainability, Frank explained.
"It's ensuring people stay healthy for as long as possible, and as soon as they start to become ill, their health is managed as soon as possible," he said.
The LBD-PCN's 48 member physicians — 31 in Leduc, 10 in Devon, five in Beaumont, and two in Calmar — provide basic care, referrals and special services to an estimated 52,000 people in Leduc County and beyond.
In addition to the SMILE program, the PCN operates an after-hours walk-in clinic Monday to Thursday at the Jackie Handerek Forester building in Leduc, a seniors clinic at the Leduc Community Hospital's outpatient department that offers a range of geriatric services, a bereavement support group and screenings for common cancers. The PCN also maintains and distributes a list of physicians in the area who are accepting new patients, with the goal of matching up "unattached" patients to family doctors.
That helps patients access the care they need when they need it, but it also helps physicians, said Frank.
"PCNs strengthen a family physician's ability to provide the best care patients in the best place, for example in their clinic or in a central location," he said. "It's really about providing the right care at the right time in the right place with the right person."
Dr. Gurpreet Dinsa, who practices at Smyth Associate Clinic in Leduc, said he was initially uncertain about how becoming a member of the PCN would affect his work, as nothing like a PCN had existed in Alberta up to that point. However, he said it has brought about many positive changes.
"(We) were given the opportunity to direct programs which we felt would benefit local patients and direct resources to target areas of need," he said in an email. "We have established programs within our PCN that provide services which were not available in our area before."
The current provincial PCN agreement expires in March 2011, at which point a new contract will be needed. Frank said given the current enthusiastic support for PCNs from doctors and administrators, he expects that a new contract will be entered into.
"I've heard nothing but positive things from all three (partners)," he said.
Patients like Wendy Hansuk are also hoping PCNs continue because of programs like SMILE, which she said strikes the right balance between patient responsibility and patient care.
"They give you the tools, and then what you do with it is up to you," she said. "They never close the door on you, though. I can access any of those people any time, and they're there for me."
For more information about the LDB-PCN and its programs, visit www.lbdpcn.com.
- Leduc Representative, August 6, 2010