Embracing opportunities for better patient care

Dr. Robert Halpenny is the President & CEO of the Interior Health Authority in British Columbia.As a young man playing hockey, I came to the realization that I was more interested in practicing medicine than receiving healthcare for my hockey injuries. I gave up my hockey aspirations and entered medical school immediately realizing I had found my niche. Now, years later, I’m the President and CEO of the Interior Health Authority in British Columbia and I find us poised on the cusp of amazing new opportunities.

Interior Health (IH) was created as one of five geographically-based health authorities in B.C. in 2001. We are responsible for ensuring publicly-funded health services are provided to over 742,000 residents of the Southern Interior. We serve a large geographic area covering almost 216,000 square kilometres including cities such as Kamloops, Kelowna, Cranbrook, Trail, Penticton and Vernon. The IH budget is $1.8 billion with over 18,000 employees and 1600 physicians. Also, within our health authority borders are a multitude of more rural and remote communities including 53 First Nations, 58 municipalities and 95 unincorporated sites.

The creation of one health authority for the Southern Interior has allowed us to improve health care services for our residents in many ways. Where 10 years ago patients often had to leave the region to receive the services they needed, sometimes transferring between several different jurisdictions, our health professionals are now better equipped to meet residents’ needs locally and to provide standards of care that are consistent across the region.

One of the new opportunities I’m excited about is our cardiac program and the new Interior Heart and Surgical Centre (IHSC) – just one piece of a nearly $1-billion capital plan that is improving healthcare in the Southern Interior of B.C.

In September 2007, the provincial government announced a cardiac revascularization (angioplasties and cardiac surgery) program would be developed in Kelowna. This IH-wide cardiac program is designed to support the educational, diagnostic and treatment programs necessary to meet the challenge of delivering cardiac care to the Southern Interior region of B.C.

Last November marked two years since the first percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI, commonly known as angioplasty) was performed at Kelowna General Hospital (KGH), one of two tertiary hospitals in IH. Previously, when a patient from the Interior required a PCI, they often waited in hospital for transfer to the Lower Mainland or Vancouver Island for the procedure. Since that first procedure, more than 2000 PCIs have been performed at KGH. Wait times are down 87 per cent and most importantly, lives are being saved. For every 100 patients coming into Kelowna General Hospital with a heart attack in 2010/11, nine more patients are alive today thanks to this service being available in the Southern Interior. Survival rates for Southern Interior PCI patients have increased from 88 per cent in 2005/06 to 97 per cent in 2010/11.

We’re rolling out our cardiac plan in phases, and starting in December 2012, KGH will offer cardiac surgery. This will be the province’s fifth cardiac centre. Initially, cardiac surgery will be performed in two dedicated operating rooms on the existing site, while the Interior Heart and Surgical Centre is under construction. Construction starts in 2013, and the IHSC is projected to open in spring 2016 with capacity for 15 operating rooms. We’re currently planning for 155 open-heart surgeries between December 2012 and March 2013, and then we’ll increase that number to approximately 590 surgeries annually.

Another exciting area for the health authority is in technology. Technology has dramatically changed how and where Interior Health delivers care. Telehealth uses telecommunications technologies to connect patients and health-care providers over large and small distances for the purpose of diagnosis, education, treatment, consultation and research. Interior Health has more than 41 telehealth programs, including the nationally recognized TeleThoracic program. TeleThoracic links patients in Cranbrook, Nelson, Trail, Kamloops, Williams Lake, and sites in the Northern Health Authority to thoracic surgeons at Kelowna General Hospital for initial surgical assessments and post-operative follow-ups. The recent TeleThoracic expansion in B.C. is modeled on this Interior Health program.

Recently a physician shared this story with me on how technology is transforming the care we deliver: “On a recent occasion, while on-call and having dinner with friends, a call came in from Trail Hospital regarding a patient with an intracerebral haemorrhage that they wanted to transfer to Kelowna. I brought up the brain CT scans on my iPad. After review, I could reassure the doctor that transfer was not required and made recommendations for treatment. The patient responded well and did not have to be transferred out.”

I find that story remarkable for a number of reasons. The first being that the patient received appropriate diagnosis and treatment quickly with the aid of technology. The patient did not require a 300 km four-hour transfer, avoided the stress of the transfer and being away from family and friends. The patient stayed in their home community, received the required care and responded well. The situation was a win-win for everyone involved.

As Interior Health heads into it’s the next ten years, the question we’re asking ourselves is, “What more are we capable of achieving?” Stay tuned.