Clinic should be here to stay

Anyone who has spent an hour or two — or seven — in the queue waiting to be seen at the emergency room understands the attraction of having the ability to be seen by a doctor and sent on their way in a matter minutes.

That was what the Non-Urgent Rapid Access clinic at the Lennox and Addington County General Hospital offered, at least for some patients. Unfortunately, starting tomorrow, we’ll have to refer to the clinic in the past tense; it is a pilot project, and the pilot is coming to an end.

Those behind the NURA clinic, however, don’t want to see it go just like that. They’re hoping that decision-makers in the Ontario health system can make it a permanent fixture at the hospital.

You can’t blame them, or the people who used the clinic, for wanting it to stay. Satisfaction levels were at 95 per cent among patients in an exit survey. If your wait time was measured in minutes and not hours to see a doctor, those kinds of satisfaction levels are to be expected.

But convenience isn’t the only factor at play here. Some 56 per cent of those who used the clinic said they would have gone to the emergency room if the clinic wasn’t there. That means a good number of patients were being diverted from the already-busy ER.

Another is the fact that many of those who used the clinic — 14 per cent, according to the survey — don’t have a family doctor to begin with. So, in these cases, we’re not talking about patients who simply didn’t want to wait a day or two to see their family doctor — they had nowhere else to turn but the NURA clinic — or, now that it’s done, the ER, or perhaps after-hours clinics in other surrounding communities.

It’s no secret that this (and many other small and rural communities) are having a hard time recruiting new general practitioners, and it can be exceedingly difficult to get on with one of the family doctors in the area. The NURA provided an alternative to those folks who don’t have family doctors and who go to the ER for treatment of issues that otherwise need not be seen in the ER.

Those who helped provide the clinic over the past five months think they can make a good case to the province to make the NURA — or something like it — work in Napanee. Based on the success of the NURA while it was operating, we agree with them. The NURA should be part of the health-care picture in this area.

Regardless of the clinic’s ultimate fate, the doctors and administrators who got this ball rolling deserve full credit for trying something new in an attempt to address a real need. With all the challenges facing the health care system, innovation is what will keep it sustainable and effective. This is a good example of innovation making a difference.

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