Nova Scotia

COVID-19 pushed Nova Scotia Health to think 'outside the box.' But what's next?

The head of Nova Scotia Health reflects on the many ways the health-care system has changed and evolved over the last year.

Pandemic 'allowed us to take some chances and really try some things,' says head of Nova Scotia Health

Dr. Brendan Carr is the president and CEO of Nova Scotia Health. (Robert Short/CBC)

It was a logical solution to deal with waiting rooms clogged with people needing a standard blood test: book appointments online and over the phone.

While the implementation of that idea was bumpy, it's one of the changes spurred by the pandemic that the head of Nova Scotia Health said has benefited patients and the system, and will create the groundwork for what's to come.

"A number of changes or things that we've introduced in the last year or so absolutely should stay because they make sense," said Dr. Brendan Carr, president and CEO.

"I think because of the threat of COVID, it's allowed us to take some chances and really try some things that we might not have tried in the past."

In the midst of the global crisis, Nova Scotia health-care workers implemented new technologies, reached out to underrepresented communities, enforced shutdowns and restarted programs, and trained staff to work in the vaccine program — all while quietly undergoing restructuring behind the scenes.

Nova Scotia Health introduced online and phone appointment bookings for blood tests during COVID-19. (CBC)

More power was given back to local decision makers, something that changed after the health authorities amalgamated in 2015.

Carr said the need for that was revealed as COVID-19 hit communities in different ways.

"We've seen leaders in different parts of the province solving the same problem, but different ways. And that completely makes sense," he said.

"Part of that absolutely includes thinking very deeply about how we work with some of those communities like our First Nations communities, like African Nova Scotian communities ... where some of these ideas were on the table before COVID or you see we're testing some outside the box ideas during this time."

Care could see a 'dramatic change'

Carr said the success of appointments and virtual care have the health authority looking toward testing programs such as an online triage system.

It could help people with urgent problems that aren't life-threatening to book appointments in the emergency department, potentially cutting down the long waits they typically face.

"We could actually see a dramatic change in the way that people are interacting with the system," he said. "We could actually turn that into more scheduled care, like same-day scheduled care."

Carr said he knows people will be anxious for some things to go back to the way they were — strict visitor restrictions being one of the hardest changes for many people to understand.

He said it's been difficult on families who want to visit loved ones.

"We know that they [families] make a tremendous impact in terms of quality, but also in terms of outcomes," he said. "And that shifts our thinking to if our goal is to ensure that we can do that [visitations] more consistently, how do we do that in a way that is safe?"

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Carolyn Ray

Videojournalist

Carolyn Ray is a videojournalist who has reported out of three provinces and two territories, and is now based in Halifax. You can reach her at Carolyn.Ray@cbc.ca

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