Munter: Pediatric innovations just might save public health care

Munter: Pediatric innovations just might save public health care

We need to think beyond the confines of an acute-care facility and find ways to bring more care to more children where it makes the most sense.

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When the country’s first ministers agreed to billions of additional dollars for Canada’s health systems, it was just the start of an important and, frankly, exciting national conversation.

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Nearly everyone agrees that funding alone won’t fix what’s ailing public health care. The status quo is no longer an option. Addressing regional needs, getting better data, investing in health-care workers and demanding greater accountability are all positive developments from the recent deal-making.

More importantly, political leaders now agree that innovation must be the new modus operandi for health care. This means finding new ways to make investments go further.

That’s what gives me the most hope as we turn the corner from the worst pediatric viral season we’ve ever experienced and as we try to work our way out of a pandemic that continues to affect everyone — exhausted and burned-out health-care workers most of all.

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I’m hopeful because innovation is in pediatric health professionals’ DNA. The solutions we offer can have lasting impacts on people, society and health systems for generations to come.

For example, with youth mental health on the decline and eating disorders on the rise, the Ontario government gave CHEO money to open more “acute-care” beds so we could care for more children who needed to be admitted to hospital.

Great news. But our clinicians had a different take. They thought: What if we created a program that welcomed young people more quickly, got them medically stable, then got them home at night to sleep and reconnect with their families?

It’s a first-of-its-kind approach in Ontario. And it allows us to stretch taxpayer dollars to care for more kids.

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Our clinicians’ solution is steeped in evidence and research. It’s pragmatic. It’s innovation in its purest sense. And that’s just one example.

Innovating with impact is a core competency in pediatrics, from drive-through clinics to a virtual emergency department. From training home-care workers to support medically fragile children, to looking after children with complex medical, behavioral and mental health needs out of hospital with wraparound services.

Still, in most parts of Ontario, most kids wait longer than adults most of the time for most types of care. For that, the province’s pediatric hospitals, mental health agencies and children’s rehabilitation centers have a plan to right-size the pediatric health-care system, which is currently too small to properly serve Ontario’s growing population of children and youth. And now there are the funds to do so.

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Health care can’t be delivered the same way it was conceived 70 years ago. We need to think beyond the confines of an acute-care facility and find ways to bring more care to more children where it makes the most sense.

Kids Come First — a partnership of more than 60 organizations and 1,000 health-care providers across Eastern Ontario — is a shining example. This extensive constellation of care is now integrating and connecting care in hospitals, homes, schools and community settings — wherever a child needs it most. For example, it brings 25 mental health agencies together to work as one team and has launched digitally driven vaccine catch-up clinics.

More access, better outcomes, shorter waits: this is what innovation and government investment can do. And this is what our pediatric experts do sustainably and sustainably for the public, universal health care.

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As the ink dries on government agreements, we need to look beyond the current crises in our health systems to build the health services of tomorrow.

Today, $2 of every $3 spent in Ontario’s health-care system go toward managing chronic diseases. Right-sizing our pediatric health system, unleashing its potential for innovation and delivering care sooner will put kids on the path to lifelong health. It could also reduce the cost of chronic care, and save a lifetime of trouble and pain. It may even save public health-care systems.

Not bad for a day’s work and the stroke of a pen.

Alex Munter is the president and CEO of CHEO, the national capital’s pediatric health centre.

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