Why the Healthcare Needs Assessment Survey Matters

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It was two in the morning and Colleen O’Neil’s five-month-old daughter was gasping for each breath. As O’Neill paced through the night trying to comfort the baby, she wondered whether to call the island’s emergency’s services.

She hesitated. Should she bother the paramedics in the middle of the night, and what about the driver of the water taxi who would have to take them across to Horseshoe Bay? No, she decided, she’d wait for the 5:30 ferry.

When she got to the hospital she discovered her daughter had pneumonia. “I should have taken her right away,” she says today.

How many times have people on Bowen Island hesitated to call 911 or seek their doctor’s help because of how complicated it is to get off the island?

That’s exactly the sort of information O’Neil, and other members of the Community Medical Clinic Society of Bowen Island, want islanders to provide.

A month ago, they posted an online survey that asks island-specific questions about healthcare. In part it’s in response to a survey by Vancouver Coastal Health which asked more general, broad-based questions, including whether people had a family doctor. After 86 per cent of Bowen Islanders said they had a doctor, VCH has asked, in casual conversation, why there is a need for a medical centre on the island.

But having a doctor is not the same as having easy access to a doctor’s care, the medical clinic society says.

For instance, O’Neil’s doctor is at Vancouver General Hospital and it’s relatively easy for her to get there. “If I was 75 and frail, how often would I see him?”

The local survey — which takes anywhere from 12 to 25 minutes to fill out — asks direct, island-specific questions such as whether islanders sometimes put their health at risk because of the logistics of getting care.

So far about 200 people have filled out the survey and 75 have started but not finished it. The goal is to have 400 to 500 responses. That information can be used to buttress applications for funding and support.

“Our ultimate goal is to increase access to healthcare,” she says.

O’Neil says 24-hour access to care is unlikely — you’d need five doctors on the island to cover all the shifts — but that still leaves big gaps with what’s currently available. With one doctor working four days a week and another doctor working two half-days a week, that’s the equivalent of one full-time doctor for the island. (In the past the island has supported two full-time doctors.)

O’Neil says one-third of the patients at Docs on the Bay in Horseshoe Bay are from Bowen Island. There’s a new pharmacy in Horseshoe Bay; will that affect the level of business at Cates Hill Pharmacy if people walk out of Docs on the Bay with their prescriptions and get them filled while waiting for the ferry home?

Many new doctors are working at walk-in clinics because they don’t see themselves as business people who have to hire staff, fill out forms and organize a cleaner if they open their own practice. A community-run clinic would take away that responsibility for them.

A medical centre could also offer clinics where one nurse could see a group of people with diabetics or people who have just had surgery.

“Vancouver Coastal Health s not sure we need a clinic so we need to show them some stats,” O’Neil says.

The survey also addresses issues that mainlanders might not recognize as being barriers to care. Let’s say you’re a man who wants some Viagra. Are you going to talk to one of the two women doctors on the island? If you have a sensitive health issue, will you feel comfortable talking to a doctor on the island one day and running into her at the Snug Café the next?

The survey can be filled out online only, which the society realizes is a bit of a barrier. People who need help can come to the Caring Circle office next to the library, and staff at the library can also set you up on one of the computers there. The same service is available at Cates Hill Pharmacy.

The survey can be found at http://fluidsurveys.com/s/Bowen-health/.

– See more at: http://www.bowenislandundercurrent.com/news/why-the-healthcare-survey-matters-1.2049221#sthash.u4g0wUV2.dpuf

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