North

Medical travel changes coming, says N.W.T. health minister

The N.W.T.’s health minister says improvements are coming to the territory's medical travel program, after the government held public consultations and did a review of the program.

Staff to get more training in order to make for better patient experience, says Glen Abernethy

The N.W.T.’s health minister, Glen Abernethy, says improvements are coming to the territory's medical travel program. (CBC)

The N.W.T.'s health minister says improvements are coming to its medical travel program, after it held public consultations and did a government review of the program.

Glen Abernethy says there are a number of changes coming to modernize the program including patients having to fill out only one form when applying for a medical escort, and medical staff getting more training in order to make for a better patient experience.

The territory hired a consultant to talk to people across the N.W.T., about their experiences with the medical travel program and suggest changes.

"The goal of the project was to focus on ways to improve N.W.T. patient experience while ensuring that the program is transparent, patient-focused and fiscally sustainable," said Kevin Taylor, director of shared services and innovation with the Department of Health and Social Services.

The medical travel program transports 13,000 patients and escorts a year and costs the territory more than $30 million annually.

The department recovers some of those costs from insurance companies. In recent years, Health Canada has also provided around $3.2 million, but this year that figure was reduced by almost half. The territory says that funding will drop to $1 million next year before it ceases entirely.

Staff turnover plagues progress

Abernethy says work to improve efficiencies in the program has not progressed as quickly as the department had hoped. He says the project has been plagued by staff turnover and capacity issues both in the health department and at Stanton Territorial Hospital.

The territorial government says it hopes things like Telehealth will help cut costs and make up for the shortfall in funding.

The results of the engagement sessions have been summarized in a report and the territory's consultant is working on developing recommendations.

The medical travel changes are set to go into effect by next April.

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