Laying the foundation for future health

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Recently the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) and eight other community partners launched a new Navigator Program to help families whose children have highly complex medical needs. The program will support parents in dealing with the economic and emotional pressures and social isolation of caring for their children.

This is a good example of how new and innovative service models are needed to meet the real needs of children, youth and families. Their needs do not fit tidily into separate silos of health, education, social supports and community – they span all of those areas and arise at home, in hospital, at school and everywhere else children are active.

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For the past five years, CHEO and its partners have already collaborated in the Champlain Complex Care Program to better coordinate the medical services for these medically fragile and technologically dependent children. The program has shown dramatic results in decreasing emergency room visits, days of hospitalization, and overall cost of supporting these patients. The families’ satisfaction with their health care experience has also greatly increased.

What’s exciting about these pilot initiatives is that they show even the most seriously ill children can benefit from more creative delivery of health and social services. How much more could be accomplished by better connecting care and focusing on families across the system?

Two of the largest challenges in health care today are providing for the needs of the most complex, medically fragile patients and designing a system to meet the needs of the chronically ill.

We know that Canadians are experiencing more chronic illnesses than ever before. Currently, one in three Canadians has at least one chronic condition, and this figure is expected to rise as our population ages. The cost is a staggering $90 billion in terms of treatment and lost productivity. What’s more, chronic diseases are now the leading causes of death worldwide.

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But less often noted is that most adult chronic disease begins in childhood. If we don’t change our current trajectory, by 2040, up to 70 per cent of today’s children will be overweight or obese adults. These kids might be the first generation whose health status could be worse than their parents’ — thanks to chronic problems correlated with obesity, from heart disease, diabetes and cancer to asthma.

Mental health is another domain where problems starting in childhood and youth can become lifelong impediments. One in 5 kids in Canada has a diagnosable mental health disorder – and the numbers seeking help are growing exponentially.

Today’s children will be tomorrow’s adults. We need to invest in the health and wellbeing of our children for a brighter and more prosperous future. Through early intervention, we can change the entire trajectory of a young person’s life, altering both their physical and mental health, as well as their life expectations.

Furthermore, studies show a direct link between health, nutrition and economic growth. A strong pediatric focus in health care will reduce overall health costs and increase economic productivity in the future.

 

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