New doctor-run clinic aims to reduce strain on Winnipeg emergency rooms
Minor Illness and Injury Clinic is staffed by about 90 people who also practise emergency medicine at hospital
A group of Winnipeg doctors has opened a new clinic that aims to change the way urgent care is delivered in the city.
"We're trying to create an alternative for people who would otherwise go to an emergency room for things that are not emergencies," said Gerald Brennan, an emergency room doctor at the Children's Hospital and an owner of the Minor Illness and Injury Clinic.
The Corydon Avenue clinic is co-owned by Brennan and three other Winnipeg emergency room doctors, Norman Silver, Erik Smith and Amin Kabani, and a medical technology consultant, David Berkowits.
Brennan said it didn't take long for them to get the rest of the clinic's staff — about 90 people who already work at emergency rooms across the city — on board with the new venture.
Filling a gap
"I think all of us, through our experience clinically, have recognized that there's a bit of a gap in the system of access right now," said Brennan.
"This is an opportunity for us to be able to fill that gap, and hopefully ameliorate the care that people are receiving."
Most of the staff are only working a few times a month at the new clinic on top of their regular emergency-room jobs, Brennan said.
"That's part of the reason that we have a staff as big as we do," he said.
"If we have everybody kind of contributing a little bit at a time … we can staff this place seven days a week."
Brennan, who has been an emergency room physician at the Children's Hospital for 13 years, said more than half the kids they see in that ER are triaged as non-emergencies.
He said if less serious cases start coming to clinics like his instead, it could help reduce wait times in and ease the burden on emergency rooms.
Long wait times are a problem in emergency rooms across Winnipeg, according to a 2017 report from the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy.
On average, the report found, there are about 610 emergency room visits in Winnipeg every day. Of these, 44 per cent are low urgency (such as a sore throat) and 38 per cent are medium urgency (like shortness of breath). About 16 per cent are high urgency (such as sudden, sharp chest pains) and only one per cent are very high urgency (such as not being able to breathe).
The report found medium-to-low-urgency patients usually end up waiting the longest to see a doctor, because higher-urgency patients are prioritized.
Brennan said he doesn't think the new clinic will completely solve this problem, but he's hopeful it will have an impact.
"I have no illusions that we're going to see that many people in this clinic. That would be twice as busy as the busiest emergency room. But I certainly think that we'd like to try and make a dent in it," he said.
"If this model proves successful, where it is helpful [and] we're actually starting to reduce dependence on the emergency room for non-emergency things, I think that would be positive and something that we could look at expanding."
'A slow and steady uptick' in patients
Since the Minor Illness and Injury Clinic opened on April 1, Brennan said they're seeing more patients almost every day, from only a handful of people the first week to about 45 people a day last week.
He said they're also dealing with a bit of a learning curve with things including staffing and computers at the new facility.
"It's been a slow and steady uptick," Brennan said.
"I guess the challenge that we've sort of faced is that we're something new. This is a new experience for most of us, and we're kind of learning a little bit about how to run clinics."
Brennan said doctors and nurses working at the clinic want to make sure everyone has access to timely medical care, regardless of how serious their condition is.
"We got into this business because we want to help people — and just because something is not considered emergency, it doesn't mean it's not important," he said.
"Sore ears need attention, sore throats need attention, sprains need attention. … They just don't need the attention from a very resource-heavy environment like the emergency room, because that's where people who have heart attacks need attention."
Medical care at the Minor Illness and Injury Clinic is covered for anyone with a valid Manitoba Health card, and for out-of-province visitors covered by a reciprocal provincial agreement. The clinic offers adult and pediatric care and is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.