CBC Q&A: How can trust be improved in long-term care facilities?

Anne Snowdon at the University of Windsor says the health-care system needs to track everything.

'Transparency in every step, every procedure, every product' is needed, expert says

Dr. Anne Snowdon says better record keeping and tracking in the health-care system could build trust with the public. (Shutterstock)

This week a former Woodstock, Ont., nurse was charged with eight counts of first-degree murder in connection with the death of eight elderly patients.

That has some people questioning the safety of long-term care homes.

Anne Snowdon, chair of the World Health Innovation Network at the University of Windsor, said there are steps the health-care system can take to improve trust with the public.

Snowdon's mother is in a long-term care home and recently fell at the facility. She said she called to speak to the nurse about the incident, but couldn't get information about what medication her mother was given, if she had taken the medication and what may have caused the fall, because there is no system to take down the information.

Here are edited excerpts from the interview:

When situations like this happen how can the long-term care and nursing home industry bring back the public trust?

"Long-term care and many health-care settings can restore or rebuild confidence among the communities they serve by creating transparent tracking and traceability. Meaning, we can report and identify objectively what seniors get, what type of care with what kinds of medication. And link those to how well those work for them, so link them to outcomes. That gives families confidence that clinical teams or care staff know exactly what care is being provided, whether it's working or not and quickly changing it, if it's not having the desired effect."

What's tracked in the health-care field?

"In most industries like a grocery store, they barcode every product that every consumer purchases and they can track that head of lettuce right back to the farm where that lettuce was grown and know who bought it and if it's it got any kind of evidence of contamination like E.coli. They know exactly who to notify and how to best manage it. In health care, we don't do that at all, in most settings. We give medications and we have no tracking or traceability of what patients got what medication and did the medications have the desired affect. Or which pacemaker was inserted into which patient and did it achieve everything it should have. If we did do what grocery stores do, we would be able to quickly identify when problems start to emerge and that would prevent additional patients from having any kind of adverse outcome."

Why do you think that would build the confidence back?

"That would give families and patients an objective record. This nurse gave you this medication at this time on this day. And here's the blood pressure or the outcomes we recorded that helps us understand that that medication is having the right effect, as it was intended. It gives more detail and more clarity to the family of the care the patients are getting. Transparency in every step, every procedure, every product linked to each patient's care and outcome gives people a sense of confidence."