For nearly a year now, the communities of Westlock and Athabasca have been linked by a “primary care network” that offers a wider range of resources to physicians and empowers patients to better manage their health conditions.
The Athabasca Primary Care Network is composed of 21 family physicians in Westlock, Athabasca and Boyle, in addition to the support staff they have in each clinic.
In a primary care network, a group of physicians works with Alberta Health Services (AHS) and other staff to co-ordinate primary health care services.
Primary care is like the first point of entry into the system; unlike tertiary care, which focuses on treating patients once they’ve suffered some injury, primary care is focused on treating the patient before they reach a hospital.
The network was first launched on April 1, 2010 and is one of 39 primary care networks throughout Alberta. It should be noted that the first primary care network was launched in 2005.
Up until recently, however, they just have been “getting their feet wet” by hiring staff and then place them into member clinics, said business manager Kelly Holmes, who was brought on last May.
To this point, they have only been able to hire registered nurses and licenced practical nurses, but are looking to hire other health care professionals, such as pharmacists.
Although they have existed for a year, it is only recently that the Primary Care Network has been able to integrate its staff into the clinics of its members.
The creation of all primary care networks in the province is done through a tri-lateral agreement between Alberta Health Services, Alberta Health and Wellness and the Alberta Medical Association.
Holmes said the funding for the primary care network comes through Alberta Health and Wellness; patients do not pay for the added service.
More recently, the primary care network hosted a pair of presentations in Westlock and Athabasca regarding concussions in sports. Dr. Martin Mrazik talked about the telltale signs of a concussion and how to deal with them.
Holmes said that presentation was in line with their focus on prevention, as well as an effort to promote themselves more.
The overall purpose of creating the network is to provide physicians with more resources and to make care more collaborative, said Holmes.
For instance, the staff employed by the network are able to focus more on education, which is normally a more time-consuming task for physicians.
With more staff on hand and a wider range of experience, the idea is having the resources to treat illnesses before patients reach the point they must go to the hospital, he indicated.
One of the bigger goals of the network is to give patients more information to better deal with their health conditions.
“It’s really to empower the patient,” said Holmes.
To receive care from a primary care network, your family doctor must already be a member of one.For more information on primary care networks or to determine if your physician is in one, visit albertapci.ca or call 1-866-408-5465.