Open Health Close to Opening Doors

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Feature 05
The new Open Health facility in Niverville Dustin Krahn

The Niverville Medical Clinic is about to take on a whole new look. The array of medical and regional health practitioners currently scattered throughout the Heritage Centre will centralize their services in the newly erected Open Health. Though ownership of the building will remain with Niverville Heritage Holdings Inc., a collaboration between the Niverville Medical Clinic and the regional health authority will allow them to lease space in the same facility.

Open Health’s unofficial “soft” opening is scheduled for September 19. Dr. Chris Burnett of the Niverville Medical Clinic anticipates the move happening quickly, with only one workday closure on September 18 to provide a minimum of disruption for patients. An official grand opening is anticipated for the annual Heritage Centre Gala in November.

Open Health will provide a number of unique amenities not available at the current location—primarily, a ground-level facility housing all the current medical and regional health staff under one roof. The new building has been designed with mobility access in mind. A total of 15 parking spots will be available outside the main door. 

A single reception area will answer all calls and serve as the hub for the entire facility. Dr. Burnett says that reception staff will be well-versed in patient needs and have access to all of Manitoba’s health resources, allowing them to direct patients to other facilities when a different type of care is needed. 

“I want them to be resource people,” says Burnett. “I don’t want them to be saying, ‘I don’t know.’”

The practitioners moving to the new facility include doctors Chris and Mairi Burnett along with two nurse practitioners, a physician assistant (PA), and a public health care nurse. Dr. Antonius, the clinic’s most recent addition to the physician team, will be moving on to another clinic in Emerson on September 15. Until a new physician has been hired, the Burnetts will assume all of his current patients with the exception of those residing in Winnipeg and south of St. Malo. With the aid of a newly hired PA, he feels they will have more than adequate time to take on the new clients. 

Dr. Burnett describes the role of physician assistants as a relatively new approach to medical care in Manitoba, although training for this degree has been available in the province for upwards of ten years. The PA performs most of the primary consultation, diagnosis, and treatment plans a physician would perform in a clinic setting but still consults with an overseeing physician regarding a patient’s care. 

“It’s kind of a team approach,” says Burnett. “The [PA] will probably do the majority of the work. We’ll decide on a joint treatment plan between us but [the client] will remain under my name or Dr. Mairi’s name. [A PA] is only limited by what [their training doctor] can do. I think what clients will get from them is more time. The other thing they will get is two good brains looking at them instead of one. Sometimes that helps.”

As for hiring another physician, Burnett adds, “I’ve had three or four conversations with Canadian physicians in the last month—one who would happily start tomorrow but is stuck in Winnipeg at the moment, and another who is still in residency.”

The Niverville Medical Clinic was the first clinic in Manitoba to use a system of electronic medical records based on cloud storage, a form of internet-based computing that allows the storing and sharing of data with other computers and devices on demand. Cloud storage provides a unique electronic means of accessing patient information from other medical facilities.

It also gives patients the ability to access their own medical records. Patients will be able to log on to their own online portal in order to access their records and communicate with their doctor. As well, client questionnaires can be filled out securely online, giving the attending physician a briefing on their patient’s health concerns before their appointment. Follow-ups can take place online with patients filling out the questionnaire again in a few months’ time, providing the doctor an opportunity to assess their progress without an appointment.

Burnett envisions many exciting things in store for the new clinic, including an extension of their operating hours. He hopes to quickly bring on part-time physicians and practitioners who will be able to take shifts that allow the clinic to be open from 6:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m., seven days a week. 

Another goal is to eliminate the early morning drop-in appointments and instead incorporate an “urgent care” model where a number of appointment times are left available for drop-ins throughout the day.

“In many ways, our clinic space becomes semi-urgent care,” says Burnett. “We will try and keep as many [time slots] open as possible during the day, regardless of whether you are a current patient or not.”

Though non-urgent care may still have a few weeks of wait time, Burnett believes it’s possible to accommodate everyone in a reasonable amount of time. 

“Most days if you want to get an appointment you’ll get one that day or the next day,” Burnett says. “It’s a case of just adjusting how many appointments a day we have available to meet the demand. You should not have to wait to see a physician for three or four months. That’s got nothing to do with the popularity of that physician. It’s about how good his or her management of the wait list is.”

To further expand on their diagnostic capabilities, one of the clinic rooms will be equipped with a spirometer for diagnosing and monitoring breathing issues. Down the road, Burnett hopes to add electrocardiogram equipment (EKG), allowing technicians to check for heart problems. 

Burnett also envisions a time in the near future where private x-ray and other technicians will hold regular clinics at Open Health. Just such a diagnostic centre was proposed in mid-August.

“We are the biggest community in Manitoba without a hospital,” says Burnett. “[But] we don’t need a hospital. Down the road, when we are open all of these [extended] hours and have special clinicians come in on a regular basis, we’ll be well equipped to deal with most concerns.”

During the design stages of the new facility, a decision was made not to include the pharmacy, which adds another level of security. Burnett feels the existing pharmacy has a prime location on Main Street.

“The reason why we [chose this location for Open Health] is because it just made sense,” concludes Burnett. “We’ve got the personal care home here and we’ve got the people who are seeing us most. In other locations we might have had more greenspace or be on Main Street, but we would have sacrificed access for our seniors.” 

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