Nova Scotia

Cape Breton studies after-hours house calls

Health experts in Cape Breton are travelling to the U.K. to examine a "house call" emergency service.

Health delegates head to England to see ambulance program

Health experts in Cape Breton are travelling to the U.K. to examine an after-hours house call service.

The delegation from the Cape Breton District Health Authority is going to Norfolk, England in March to learn about the East of England Ambulance Service. It dispatches a nurse and paramedic to homes in response to distress calls.

They have special training and computer software to assess a patient's condition and decide whether he needs to go to the hospital. A physician is in contact with the team for bigger decisions.

CBDHA is considering whether such a service might be able to replace the emergency room in New Waterford at night.

"It's a house call on steroids," said Peter Littlejohn, a family doctor in New Waterford.

Good for elderly

Littlejohn, who still makes house calls, called it an innovative approach. He said many in his community are elderly or lack the means to get to the ER.

"This is not primarily developed as a cost-saving measure. It's really developed as a novel approach to providing appropriate care," he said.

CBDHA spokesman Greg Boone said there has been no decision to adopt the practice in New Waterford.

Boone did say that with the ER closed as much as 25 per cent of time due to a doctor shortage, something has to change

"We need to look at it and people have encouraged us to look at it to see if it would be practical to adapt it for New Waterford — particularly for after-hours coverage for the community and surrounding area," he said.

Few true emergencies

Too, Boone said, few patient visits to the New Waterford ER are for true emergencies. A paramedic and nurse team could prevent needless trips.

"They could decide that this was an urgent case that needed admission to hospital or they could initiate some treatments of their own," Boone said.

"They could simply make an appointment to see their family physician or a primary care physician the day following."

The delegation includes doctors and nurses from New Waterford. A citizens group had asked to be represented on the trip, but the health authority turned down the request.