As published in the September 2012 edition of Good Life Connoisseur
From the time private family medical clinics burst onto the Canadian healthcare scene in 2005 with the opening of Copeman Healthcare’s first clinic in Vancouver, critics have accused them of catering exclusively to healthy, affluent people. However, according to that Centre’s founder, Don Copeman, nothing could be further from the truth.
“Although our Centre’s foundation is preventive health, our multi-disciplinary, team-based approach to care is attracting an increasing number of people with serious health issues that see the value of adding specially trained nurses, dietitians, kinesiologists, health psychologists and other specialized medical professionals to their family health team. They understand more and more how this supplements and complements the care of even the best family physician”.
According to Copeman, the percentage of people that come to the centre for secondary prevention – a term used to describe medical and lifestyle interventions that minimize the risk and impact of an existing medical condition – has grown to over 60% of their patient population. In searching for an example, I came across the story of a young woman named Tracy.
Tracy’s battle with Crohn’s Disease
Gripped by fever and vomiting, 23 year old Tracy was admitted to hospital for the third time in as many months. Since the age of 17 she had battled Crohn’s Disease but unlike previous outbreaks this time was different. This time the inflammation was far worse than anything the doctors had seen before and if it ruptured it could escalate into a life-threatening situation.
“It was like an episode of a medical drama,” says Tracy, “Except that instead of watching it, I was in it.”
The former Yukon resident, who had recently relocated to Calgary, was trying to put on a brave face but with her family and friends back in Whitehorse, inside she felt cold and alone. It was a feeling she was all too familiar with; a flurry of random episodes had her in and out of hospital on a regular basis and without a family physician in Calgary she wasn’t sure who to turn to.
“I needed a family doctor,” says Tracy.
Finds hope in private clinic services
She began looking around but had trouble finding a practice that was accepting new patients. She put her name on several waiting lists but not knowing how long it might be decided to try some private options. She tried naturopaths, acupuncturists and invested more than $8,000 at two private clinics before finally arriving at the Calgary Copeman Healthcare Centre. According to Tracy, just walking in gave her a feeling of hope.
“I was impressed. It was really beautiful and well-maintained and it inspired a lot of confidence. I knew that if that’s how they took care of the facility then they must really care for the patients.”
On her initial intake, one of Copeman’s physicians spent an hour going through her file, her symptoms, her past treatment and her health goals.
“The entire team there was really thorough, I never felt like I was on the clock,” says Tracy, “They spent the time I needed and they answered all my questions.”
In subsequent visits she was impressed with the electronic record keeping. On the rare occasion when she couldn’t get in to see her regular doctor it seemed like every other Copeman staff member seemed to be familiar with her case.
“It was like they were collaborating on my file even after I left. I felt like I had a team of doctors and dietitians working on my case behind the scenes. There was a lot of comfort in that.”
The strategy that worked
Soon the team had a game plan. This included declining surgery in favour of a relatively new IV medication that had produced life-changing results in other Crohn’s patients. To get into the treatment program required a letter of support but that was easily handled by one of Copeman’s physicians. The treatment involved returning every few weeks for IV infusions at the hospital. This was complemented with regular blood tests and regular appointments with her Copeman team.
The strategy worked.
Tracy began to see dramatic results in 6-8 months; so dramatic in fact that although it’s still a managed condition, she no longer feels like she has Crohn’s Disease.
“It’s more than managed. I’m symptom free and I’m continuing on with my life. Now I can travel and I haven’t missed a client appointment in over a year. In the past I wasn’t well enough to get on a plane and I used to miss a lot of work due to illness. It was embarrassing always calling up clients at the last minute to cancel appointments. That doesn’t happen anymore.”
Healthy enough to dream
Now at age 26 the improvement in health has allowed Tracy to shift her focus back to her career. Next semester she’s returning to school, a dream that has been on hold for 9 years and for the first time seems possible.
“Since high school I’ve never felt that I could dedicate the amount of time and energy needed for a post-secondary education so I think it’s safe to say that Chrohn’s is no longer holding me back.”
According to Copeman, this type of outcome is common and he believes that the highly effective collaborative practices that his clinics employ will become increasingly common in the years to come.
“We began our clinics to help drive innovation in the spirit of creating the best primary healthcare system in the world. Healthcare leaders have begun carefully watching what we do and we truly hope that we can be seen as leaders and real partners in the delivery of healthcare in this country”.
Adding some private energy into the mix of healthcare delivery has been what the growing number of private advocates has been encouraging for years. I’ve now become one of these advocates, and I will be keenly watching how private and public services will come together in the years ahead.