Innovative health care is integrated health care

The number of B.C. residents aged 65 and over is expected to grow by 20 per cent in the next five years. Despite our best efforts at staying active and eating well, someday we will all arrive at an age where we will depend heavily on our health care system.

Last year, 45 per cent of Canadian health care dollars were spent on hospitals and prescription drugs, driven to a great degree by those over age 55 with chronic conditions. It is also estimated that roughly two-thirds of seniors over the age of 65 are taking five or more prescription drugs. While much of the conventional health care conversation leans toward our publicly-funded system, the health care economy relies on health-benefit providers and British Columbians themselves to cover roughly 30 per cent of provincial health care costs. Health professionals, government and employers agree that a more coordinated approach to primary care can help to prevent and manage chronic conditions and support the health needs of our aging population.

Integrated health care clinics are designed to treat the whole person. Through a collaborative clinical space, practitioners expedite access to appropriate care to deliver the best possible health outcomes. They can also help to identify and address over-prescribing of medications, improving quality of life, and reducing out-of-pocket costs for patients. Clinics like these are already emerging across B.C. Integrated primary care not only makes sense, it’s the right thing to do.

On Nov. 4, Pacific Blue Cross was proud to sponsor the annual Greater Vancouver Board of Trade Health Care Forum — Integrated Health Care 2.0. The event brought together close to 300 health care professionals, employers, academics and policy makers to discuss the application of integrated care at a system-wide level. The Forum introduced us to integrated care models from around the world that have bridged silos, reduced treatment costs and ultimately led to better health outcomes. For example, the Think Whole Person Healthcare Clinic, the innovation of Irish pharmacist Fergus Hoban and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, estimates its revolutionary approach to prescribing medications has reduced polypharmacy in seniors by up to 20 per cent.

As a B.C. employer and benefits provider to 1 in 3 British Columbians, Pacific Blue Cross administers extended health care benefits for some of the largest and most complex employers and pension plans in the province. For 75 years, we have supported the primary health care needs of British Columbians through all stages of their lives. To put the scope of primary care in B.C. into perspective, annually Pacific Blue Cross alone processes more than 19 million claims for dental and vision care, practitioner treatments, mental health counselling, medical and mobility aids and prescription drugs delivered by thousands of different health providers across the province. 

To be successful, we are all in need of shared access to health care utilization data — hospital and health agency, allied health, prescription drug, behavioural and socio-economic — to deliver the right care in the right place at the right time. Pacific Blue Cross recently partnered with Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Applied Science on a Health Informatics Lab as a first step in consolidating data to support the shift toward integrated health care.

Conversations about innovation can too often start with what’s at risk. This is not about comparing health care systems in Canada or the United States, or any other country. Health care innovation is possible while still preserving affordable access to the best possible care for all British Columbians. We invite health care organizations, employers, citizens and government to explore new approaches to primary care delivery to sustain our uniquely Canadian health care system for future generations.

Jan K. Grude is an economist, author and president and CEO of Pacific Blue Cross, B.C.’s leading health benefits provider for more than 75 years.

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