Modernizing the old-fashioned family practice

To complement regular physician visits, the Omineca Medical Clinic is holding group meetings on smoking cessation and cardiovascular health.

To complement regular physician visits

To complement regular physician visits

Health care reform isn’t simple, but the Omineca Medical Clinic in Vanderhoof is certainly trying.

By holding free monthly meetings on smoking cessation and cardiovascular health, the clinic aims to educate whole groups of 20 to 25 people who may be affected by the same ailments.

The meetings will enable clinic doctors and guest speakers – nurses, dietitians, pharmacists and other public health experts – to provide more information about certain conditions than a typical 10-minute appointment with a family physician generally permits.

“It kind of streamlines things. In family practice, it’s one of those areas where you can get a lot of good bang for your buck,” said Dr. Jeff Obayashi, one of several physicians who will facilitate the Omineca Medical Clinic Cardio Group meetings starting in February.

The approach, part of a province-wide shift towards self-management of chronic health conditions, will empower patients with knowledge about medications, lifestyle changes, community resources and initiating new behaviors so they can start dealing with their conditions more proactively.

“Really, it’s up to the patient to take ownership of their disease or to minimize their addiction,” said Dr. Obayashi.

Dr. Obayashi and Michelle Naka, a diabetic nurse, will manage the first meeting, Heart Attacks and How To Prevent Them, at the Omineca Health Clinic on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 5:30 p.m.

Meetings in the months to follow will revolve around chronic cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and high cholesterol.

Everybody is welcome to participate, said Dr. Obayashi.

“It’s actually open to anybody, even a daughter with family history of heart attack or blood pressure issues,” he said.

The debilitating nature of smoking and cardiovascular disease are interrelated. Some people who suffer from various conditions can blame their tobacco addiction.

Given the prevalence of cigarette smokers in northern B.C., Dr. Obayashi believes he will be referring many patients to his counterpart, Dr. Gus van der Spuy, who is managing the smoking cessation meetings starting on Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 5:30 p.m.

“We started in the New Year specifically because we know many people have a resolution of quitting,” said van der Spuy. “Hopefully we can help with that.”

The smoking cessation meetings will focus on the health risks of smoking and how patients can kick their addictions by utilizing various medicines and prescription drugs, many of which are available for free and subsidized by the provincial government, said Dr. van der Spuy.

“Lots of people sometimes hide behind the fact that they don’t know, but if we give them the information, then they will feel more empowered to take the bull by the horns and quit.”

Dr. van der Spuy says smoking is the number one modifiable risk factor that can lead to cardiovascular diseases, a leading cause of death in developed countries like Canada and the U.S.

“It’s never too late to quit,” he said.

The advantages to quitting smoking are huge, both doctors concurred.

Over a period of 10 or 20 years, the risk of developing cardiovascular complications falls back to baseline, said Obayashi. And although it takes time for lungs to discharge many years worth of tar accumulation from cigarettes, a smoker’s level of energy regenerates relatively quickly.

“You can change your life by just changing that,” Dr. van der Spuy said.

Across B.C., smoking and poor cardiovascular health remain billion-dollar drags on the economy.

In 2011, the Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada found that 23.1 per cent of people smoked in Northern Health’s jurisdiction, compared to the provincial average of 17.4 per cent.

According to Northern Health, in 2006, it was estimated that obesity and physical inactivity cost the B.C. economy more than $1 billion annually. By 2015, this figure is projected to grow to $1.85 billion, approximately 40 per cent of which are direct health care costs.

“If British Columbians had a healthy weight, were physically active and didn’t smoke, the province could avoid over $3.8 billion in economic and health care costs each year,” Kristy Anderson, a representative for the Ministry of Health, identified in an email on Friday, Jan. 11.

As provincial health care costs skyrocket, the ministry says prevention is key.

“It is critically important that all of us make healthier choices – to eat more fruits and vegetables, to reduce our caloric and sodium intake, to get regular exercise and to do what we can to avoid chronic disease,” the ministry said.

In early 2011, the Omineca Medical Clinic introduced a weight-loss program that has helped dozens of people in Vanderhoof collectively shed an enormous amount of weight.

Other group medical meetings at the Clinic have addressed chronic disease management, prenatal care and screening for cervical cancer and colon cancer.

“The group visits in general have been very popular,” said Jennifer Little, an office manager at the clinic who helps coordinate the meetings.

“There is a mutual support element as well.”

To pre-register for the meetings, visit the Omineca Medical Clinic, or call 250.567.2201.

The Omineca Medical Clinic Cardio Group meets on Wednesday, Feb. 20, at 5:30 p.m. Smoking cessation meetings begin Wednesday, Jan. 30, at 5:30 p.m. Everybody is welcome.