Care to imagine

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It’s always interesting when people who work in health care have a direct experience with the system in a different role than they typically play. Imagine, for example, a physiotherapist who is admitted to hospital for knee replacement surgery; a paramedic who waits anxiously in the ER with his very sick baby; a doctor who is thrust into the role of family caregiver after her mother is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease; a CEO who spends a week in the hospital trauma unit; a front-line nurse who is promoted to a director role; or, a chaplain who is diagnosed with terminal cancer and wishes to live out her last days at home.

Whether real or imagined, these types of experiences often lead us to see the health-care system in a very different way. We are able to gain new perspectives on the challenges of the day and begin to frame our responses in new ways.

George Bernard Shaw once said that “Imagination is the beginning of creation; you imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.”

At Saint Elizabeth Health Care, one of our taglines is Care to Imagine. I love this play on words because imagination is so essential when you are trying to position for the future. As we celebrated our 100th anniversary last year, we found ourselves pondering what the future of health care would look like, or more importantly, what it would feel like. In health care, where so much planning is based on resolving problems of the past, it is important that we step back, look at trends and opportunities, and use our imagination to open our minds to the possibilities of what can take place.

In today’s world, location no longer needs to be a driver for accessing care; it can be provided whenever and wherever you want it – at the local hospital or clinic, at the cottage, in a remote community, one-on-one or virtual. This alone can be very freeing. Moreover, we now have the systems, tools and technologies to put a world of information at our fingertips.

At our holiday party, a telecommunications executive was telling a story about a doctor in a remote village of Africa who was able to perform life-saving surgery based on instructions he received from a colleague through a text message. According to the latest poll by Ipsos-Reid, 70 per cent of Canadians are surfing the Internet for health information. At the same time, home care nurses are helping clients and families understand their condition and participate in their care in new ways through the use of digital photography and advanced real-time wireless technology. Finally, with a $500 million increase in federal funding, Canada Health Infoway estimates that 30 per cent of Canadians will have an electronic health record by the end of this year.

Just as role playing can be a powerful exercise for imagining the health-care system in a whole new way, so too is the experience of stepping out of our own world into new environments. In home care, we have an incredible opportunity to witness and interact with people in the context of their everyday lives. From family dynamics to culture and lifestyle to pets, the home environment is truly as multifaceted and diverse as people themselves! Variables are difficult to control, and as health providers, we need a certain “go with the flow” mentality. Until you’ve experienced the magic that is home care (or more specifically, the system that brings health care to people, wherever they are), it is difficult to understand its role and value in the bigger picture.

Organizations like Saint Elizabeth Health Care are increasingly working in partnership with hospitals, CCACs and LHINs to help design and bridge to new solutions for emergency rooms, transitional beds, wait times, aging at home and chronic disease. Similar to strong models for mentorship within the health professions, the learning and exchange must be two-way. One of the great strengths an experienced home care provider can offer to other areas of the system is a window on people’s lives – their unique and multifaceted ways of living, coping and being when they are outside the health-care system as we know it.

Care to imagine what would happen if we reshaped the entire health-care system around the underlying behaviours, desires and motivations of individuals and families? Our greatest limitation would be our collective imagination, and throw pillows would be just the beginning!