Community health centers and apps helping patients find health care options in Niagara Falls

Laura Blundell is the Executive Director of the Niagara Falls Community Health Center, where traditionally underserved or complex patients are treated by a large team of healthcare professionals.

Finding a family doctor or walk-in clinic without incredible wait times can be difficult for those living in Niagara Falls. Community health care centers and mobile apps help bridge the gap between patients and the care they need.

“Our goal is for (patients) to have excellent primary care, so as preventative as possible. But usually when we take people in, they haven’t been taken care of for a while,” said Niagara Falls Community Health Center Executive Director Laura Blundell. “Our average patient is twice as complex as the average primary care client in Ontario.

Working as part of a team of 35 people, including physicians, nurse practitioners, outreach workers, counsellors, dietitians and many other health professionals, the Niagara Falls Community Health Center is trying to fill the gap in care for its traditionally underserved patients.

This includes people below the poverty line, isolated seniors, newcomers to Canada, and people facing barriers such as homelessness.

His team can see more than 3,200 patients a year for primary care and more than 10,000 unique people using the services and programs offered by the community health center.

Some of his patients have been unable to find a primary care physician because their medical issues are already complex, which may impact which physicians are willing to accept their care.

“Physicians who are already overwhelmed are then overwhelmed even more by taking on complex patients. And in a billing model, that kind of affects your bottom line. So it’s understandable, I think,” Blundell added of some doctors’ decision not to take on these complex cases.

Physicians at the Niagara Falls Community Health Center are paid a salary, which means they do not directly bill patients for the care they provide and cannot receive financial incentives for providing care to more than patients. This allows them to devote time to the many complex cases they handle.

“In the past, I would say finding and retaining doctors was a struggle,” Blundell said. “So fit, in terms of mission, who we are and what we do, has become kind of the main goal in terms of recruiting.”

Blundell thinks one of the barriers to finding people who want to enter the health care field as primary care physicians and family physicians to run their own practice is the vast amount of information required outside of their only medical knowledge.

“Our system has become more complex. We asked physicians to learn many different platforms,” added Blundell. “You end up becoming an administrator largely. And I don’t think that’s necessarily why people may have wanted to be doctors in the first place.

New physicians also need to be able to quickly locate specialists in the area, community programs that would help their patients, hospital resources available to them, and mental health and addiction treatment services.

This vast amount of information can be difficult for physicians to find, let alone patients trying to navigate the healthcare system without a primary care physician.

Medimap is a group that aims to help bridge the gap between available providers, walk-in clinics, and patients by providing up-to-date information on wait times for different services in an area through a downloadable app.

Patients can enter their symptoms and find a list of clinics and specialists who would be able to treat a specific condition, rather than having to visit a clinic to get a referral to a secondary specialist for treatment.

Medimap Vice President of Operations Teddy Wickland says another problem he sees in addition to the doctor shortage in the Niagara region is the lack of information available on accepting and not accepting doctors. no new patients.

“It’s not often publicly available where you can actually see in one centralized place all of the available doctors and their appointments in your market,” he said. “Our hope is that we can partner with everyone and add all the capacity that exists within the system in some way to one place.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: After hearing about an app designed to help people find the care they need despite doctor shortages, journalist Brilee Sears wanted to see what was being done in the community to help provide patient care in the need in Niagara Falls.

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