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Increasing Health Care Access Through Family Health Teams

Archived Backgrounder

Increasing Health Care Access Through Family Health Teams

Office of the Premier

The McGuinty government is bringing better health care to hundreds of thousands of Ontarians by creating the first 52 Family Health Teams (FHTs) in the province and three networks of Family Health Teams. This exceeds the target of 45 FHTs that had originally been set for this spring. The government is committed to introducing 150 FHTs by 2007-2008 to serve 2.5 million Ontarians.

Family Health Teams are a cornerstone of the McGuinty government's plan for health care. The McGuinty government is creating a health care system that helps people stay healthier, delivers good care when people need it and will be dependable for generations to come.

It is a plan that includes reducing wait times for key procedures, creating FHTs, increasing the number of doctors and nurses, and investing heavily in community-based health care in order to ease the pressure on hospitals and deliver care where people need it most.

Family Health Teams will mean many patients who are without a family doctor today will benefit from the care of a team of health care professionals, close to home, when they need them.

What are Family Health Teams?

Family Health Teams include doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and other health care professionals working together to provide comprehensive care day and night, seven days a week, close to home.

The three networks of Family Health Teams will be in Barrie, Hamilton and Peterborough -- the three areas where interest in establishing FHTs was strongest. By working together and sharing program development and, in some cases, resources, these networked FHTs will be better able to meet the needs of their communities.

This first round of FHTs is expected to include just over 600 physicians and provide front-line health care to more than one million patients. The FHTs announced today are located across the province, in both urban and rural settings, half of them in communities that have a shortage of doctors.

Some FHTs will include a mix of other health professionals such as: physician specialists, social workers, health educators, dieticians and others, based on their size and the needs of the community they serve.

Individual FHTs will differ -- both in size and make-up -- having been designed by communities and providers to meet unique local health care needs.

Some of the FHTs will be up and running over the next few months while others will take longer to hire staff and become fully operational.

FHTs are designed to improve patient access to health care by expanding the number and variety of health professionals available to individual patients and families.

Physicians working in an interdisciplinary group practice see up to 52 per cent more patients than those working in a solo practice.

Patients are not the only winners. Physicians working in FHTs receive administrative and infrastructure support that allows them to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time caring for patients. All members of the team will be able to share their workload and benefit from the support and skills of other complementary health professionals.

What Makes Family Health Teams Different?

FHTs are the next generation of primary health care. Most notably, FHTs differ from other models because they include a wide range of health professionals working together to serve the unique needs of the people in their community.

Primary health care is the patient's first point of contact with a doctor, nurse practitioner or a community-based health care team -- and a patient's entry point into the health care system.

Family Health Teams offer a range of health care services including: assessing the physical or mental condition of an individual, and the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of any disease, disorder or dysfunction.

The health care providers in FHTs will emphasize education and disease prevention and encourage people to take an active role in their own health care.

Each FHT is different and responds to the health care needs of the local community. Community groups and local health professionals develop each FHT to ensure they meet the health needs of the patients they serve.

Family Health Teams will:

  • Provide a comprehensive range of health care services delivered by teams of doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners and other health care professionals -- such as dieticians and pharmacists -- who meet local health care needs
  • Expand access to health care by providing health care at extended hours and on weekends, and providing access to registered nurses after-hours through the Telephone Health Advisory Service
  • Provide health information so that they can make informed decisions on how to manage their health care needs
  • Enhance the management of chronic diseases such as diabetes and asthma
  • Improve the coordination of health care by better linking patients to other parts of the health care system, such as hospitals, long-term care homes, public health, mental health, and community programs and services
  • Use information technology so health care providers across the system can share timely and secure access to test results and other important patient information
  • Be governed by physicians, by the community or by a mix of the two, depending on the characteristics of the community.

How Family Health Teams Work

As a patient in a Family Health Team, you will continue to see your family doctor during regular office hours.

What will be different is that you will be able to see other health care professionals with the team, such as nurse practitioners, nurses, dieticians and pharmacists. You will also have access to your doctor or another doctor in the FHT during extended evening and weekend hours for urgent problems. In both of these cases, your own doctor will receive information on these visits, so that they will always be up-to-date on your medical condition.

Selecting the First Family Health Teams

The ministry held information sessions on FHTs in 16 locations across the province last November. Information kits were handed out to interested parties, providing information on FHTs and how to develop plans for one. The kits also included an application form for submission to the ministry.

The Ministry of Health received 213 applications from communities and physician-led groups across Ontario. In the coming months, the ministry will announce more FHTs from these original applications. A second call for applications is expected in the Fall of 2005 to allow new communities and groups to submit FHT proposals.

The FHT Action Group, a working group representing a wide range of stakeholders, was established to provide expert advice to the Primary Health Care Team on operations and implementation of FHTs. This includes selection criteria and the application process. Proposals were evaluated by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care according to criteria that included:

  • Population need and current services available
  • Consistency with the FHT vision
  • Appropriateness of proposed services and provider mix to the needs of the identified population
  • Degree of partnership and support from other community groups and providers
  • The readiness of the group to proceed.

Working with Communities to Create FHTs

Community groups and health care providers that applied for a Family Health Teams and were not selected in the first round will continue to be considered in the future and should continue to monitor upcoming announcements. The ministry will provide guidance and support to help further strengthen proposals, if required. Financial assistance is even available to help applicants prepare proposals, so that communities lacking resources can also have the opportunity to participate.

How FHTs Fit In

Family Health Teams represent a refinement and expansion of existing models such as Family Health Networks, Primary Care Networks, Health Service Organizations, Community Health Centres and Rural and Northern Physician Group Agreements. These existing models will continue to exist and deliver important care to the communities that they serve.

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