Nfld. & Labrador·Critical Condition

How health-care hubs are improving patient care in Corner Brook

It's changing the way patients receive treatment while also solving some of the biggest health-care problems, like long wait times and doctor recruitment.

Health clinics are recruiting desperately needed new doctors to the area

Jennifer Veitch started Veitch Physiotherapy and Wellness Centre to improve patients' experiences. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Collaborative health care in Corner Brook is changing the way patients receive treatment while also solving some of the biggest problems facing the province's health-care system, like long wait times and doctor recruitment.

"I wanted a place that felt good. As soon as people walked in the door, I wanted it to feel different for people," said Jennifer Veitch, who started Veitch Physiotherapy and Wellness Centre.

Beginners take in a yoga class at Veitch Physiotherapy and Wellness Centre in Corner Brook. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

On the outside, it looks like an office building — but inside, it's a health hub with doctors, specialists, physiotherapists, yoga instructors and even an on-site pharmacy with two pharmacists.

Some services like access to a physician are covered under the province's Medical Care Plan, but others, like physiotherapy services, charge your health insurance or the patient directly.

Collaborative health care

Veitch was a physiotherapist who wanted to change the way she treated patients.

She started small by bringing some family doctors into her practice in 2012. Now, the large building on O'Connell Drive has pretty much every health service imaginable.

Veitch Physiotherapy and Wellness Centre, left, and the Health and Performance Centre in Corner Brook look like office buildings from the outside, but inside, they are health-care hubs. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Veitch realized her goal for better health care was working after about six months in, when all staff were gathered in the break room for birthday cake and coffee.

"I overheard a very quick conversation with one of our family doctors and one of the physio[therapists]. 'Hey, I've got this client and I'm not sure what to do,' and, 'Oh, I'm doing this' — and that is exactly what I wanted," she said.

"That 30-second conversation improved both the lives of those professionals and the care of the patient. Whereas if they were in different locations, that would have been two weeks of trying to get someone on the phone, it might have had to be a formal letter — very different."

All under one roof

Physiotherapist Heather Buckle had the same experience opening her office, called the Health and Performance Centre.

She and her husband moved away from Newfoundland and Labrador for school and work, and they saw this model working in other places.

Heather Buckle is a physiotherapist who opened Corner Brook's Health and Performance Centre. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

They decided to return to Corner Brook and rent a building big enough to bring doctors and physiotherapists under one roof.

"We saw that the collaborative model worked very well," Buckle said.

"When the team members were talking regularly, the patient care improved, patient happiness improved — even the ease of the workday and productivity improved."

Even patients without extensive insurance coverage get a better experience, Buckle said, because the doctor is in the same building as the physiotherapist.

"Say one of the docs says, 'I recommend physiotherapy, but I know you don't have coverage.' Oftentimes, they will call out to us or walk down the hall and say, 'I have this client who has this condition. They don't have coverage, is there anything you can do in one session?' Oftentimes, we say: 'Yes.'"

Patient experience

Katy Smallwood is a gynecologist at the Veitch Physiotherapy and Wellness Centre, who is currently on maternity leave with 10-week-old twin boys.

"My family doctor is in this building, and when I come in to see her, I am able to bring them to see the lactation consultant, to see physiotherapy and massage, and if I have a prescription, we pop into the pharmacy on the way out," she said.

"As you can imagine, it's difficult to get the twins in and out of the car, and to stop and have all those services in one go makes all the difference."

It changes how we have operated.- Katy Smallwood

With Smallwood off on maternity leave, the other gynecologists at the centre can take care of some of her patients. When she is in the office, she works closely with physiotherapists that specialize in pelvic floor rehabilitation.

"It changes how we have operated," she said.

New doctors

Smallwood said she believes the health centres take the load off the public health sector and help with wait times at Western Memorial Regional Hospital.

"I think a lot of the issues with health care in Corner Brook right now are wait times and lack of access to primary care," she said. 

"What this building is able to do is provide a great space for primary care and attract a lot of family physicians to the town."

Katy Smallwood, who runs her gynecology office out of the Veitch Physiotherapy and Wellness Centre, is currently on maternity leave and uses the centre as a patient. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

The people running the centres say that physicians who are new to Corner Brook want to set up a family practice, while also working with the hospital's emergency department. The health centres have everything set up for them, so doctors can easily move into the space.

"Newfoundland is really short on [doctors]," said Buckle.

"Our big goal was to try and create better opportunities for doctors to move to Corner Brook and say, 'Look what we have: this beautiful medical centre.

"There are a lot of doctors graduating that want to be in a centre like this, but don't want to start it themselves."

About the Author

Colleen Connors reports on western Newfoundland from CBC's bureau in Corner Brook.

Colleen Connors