A new study from North Simcoe Health Link (NSHL) says addressing poverty and social isolation is key to reducing hospital visits.
“There’s been a lot of press lately about the one to five per cent of the population that consume the lion’s share of the health-care dollar,” said David Jeffery, executive director of Chigamik Community Health Centre. “We wanted to get beyond that stat and really learn about people’s lives.”
The study said addressing non-medical issues, such as connecting people to community services, leads to better health outcomes and more efficient use of health-care resources.
According to the report, Georgian Bay General Hospital provided information on patients' use of the emergency department prior to their using the resources of NSHL. From there, the NSHL's community nursing staff intervened in their care.
These interventions showed an “immediate impact on utilization of the ER and hospital by patients,” Jeffery said.
“We learned if you intervene with community nursing and develop a network of support for these individuals, they don’t need to go to the hospital,” he said.
The study found emergency visits and hospitalizations were reduced by more than a third after the intervention.
As part of the study, NSHL is recommending an expansion of volunteer transportation programs to help combat social isolation, increased access to mental-health services, and promoting access to community programs and resources that go beyond primary care.
Jeffery noted a significant amount of research shows those who live in poverty and are socially isolated (without a circle of friends and family) tend to have poor health.
“It’s one of the driving features of why people are using the health-care system so much,” he said. “And health care is the most expensive way to manage poverty. We have to do something different.”
Jeffery said NSHL is reaching out to other community health organizations to see if they can continue the project and create more of a provincewide study.
“We need a radical solution on mitigating poverty,” he said. “If we did that and did it well, it would have an immediate effect on health care in the province.”
The NSHL partnership includes Chigamik, the North Simcoe Family Health Team, Georgian Bay General Hospital and Waypoint Centre for Mental Health Care.
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