North

N.W.T. patients avoid seeing local health care workers, study finds

A new study has found that privacy concerns are deterring people in the Northwest Territories from accessing the care they need.

Study in the International Journal for Circumpolar Health cites privacy concerns as the reason

There are benefits to having local nurses and staff at health centres in the North, but a new study has found that privacy concerns are actually deterring people from accessing the care they need.

The study, published in the International Journal for Circumpolar Health, looked at the challenges of accessing health care in five N.W.T. communities: Tuktoyaktuk, Gameti, Wekweeti, Inuvik and Yellowknife.

It found that in the smaller communities, many people are scared to bring their medical issues to the local health centre, especially when it's staffed by local health care workers, because there's a concern that information will be shared with other people in the community.

Sandra Lockhart has worked as a nurse in the N.W.T. She says seeing local health care workers can give patients a 'strong sense of vulnerability.' (CBC)

"When I go see a nurse that I just had supper with... it's a strong sense of vulnerability," says Sandra Lockhart, who is from the small community of Lutsel K'e and has worked as a nurse in Inuvik and Yellowknife.

"The clerk could be my sister, the nurse could be my aunt, and all of the sudden it will feel like to me, everybody knows."

Some patients told the study's authors that they avoid going to local health workers and would prefer to wait for nurses from outside of the community to arrive, which could take weeks.

Challenge for staff, too

The study says it's also stressful for staff who are working in their home communities.

The authors found that workers face challenges in small, tight-knit towns, where there's social pressure from family and friends who have high expectations of them.

While the study acknowledges that there is a familiarity with culture and language when the health care worker is local, it says many patients still prefer a worker from outside the territory.

"There is for many a lot of comfort for people who know the nurse, who have a personal relationship with a nurse," Lockhart says, but she adds that it needs to be clear to the patients that those nurses will protect their information.

"Health care has a responsibility to ensure the client that there is confidentiality here and there's strict rules to follow."

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