Transforming Ontario's Health Care System Care Stories

The Data Quality Voice of the North

An elderly woman living alone ended up in the emergency room at Health Sciences North repeatedly. After this occurred a few times, she was referred to a social worker at the hospital, who successfully connected her with appropriate support services in the community.

"This patient hasn't been back to the emergency room since then," said Sandra Duhamel, the hospital's Director of Decision Support and Reporting.

"The involvement of the social worker directly improved the outcome for this patient. Data collection allows us to look at referrals made as well as the patient outcomes as a result of those referrals. In this case, the data showed us that it wasn't until a referral for social work services was made that the patient finally got the results she needed and didn't have to go to the emergency department again."

Documenting the care delivered to patients has become more important than ever because of changes that have been put in place by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care on how hospitals are funded. Funding is based on how many patients are looked after, the needs of the people served, the services delivered, and the quality of those services. So, to determine the budgets of hospitals, the ministry needs these institutions to carefully track the patients they see and document what happens to them, while they are receiving care at the hospital.

Health Sciences North is actively taking steps to document and link the work done by a range of professionals delivering care to the impact on patients. For example, Duhamel said, do patients seen by a social worker stay fewer days in hospital or are they re-admitted less frequently? One of the benefits will be to help the hospital's health care professionals recognize the difference their actions make in the lives of patients. And this, in turn, will help frontline staff recognize the importance of always documenting the work they are doing in providing patient care.

Health Sciences North took steps to do things differently and set up a working group within the hospital to better understand the cost of the patient care they were delivering. One of the first aims was to try to improve the way frontline staff recorded the care they provided to each patient. The hospital held education sessions with professionals such as social workers, physiotherapists and dietitians to discuss how important it was to capture their work with patients and the consequences of not recording that data.

"We created a cultural shift in thinking so frontline staff have a clear understanding of the process of collecting data, why it needs to be accurate and how important they are in the process," Duhamel said. To make recording data easier, Health Sciences North simplified the process of how various professionals, such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, social workers, and dietitians, record the care delivered and the time spent with patients. "Our staff needed to document what they did, and we made it easier for them to do that. But even more importantly," Duhamel said, "by directly linking their work to patient outcomes, staff was more supportive of adopting new ways of recording data."

The ministry also provided training to health care providers earlier this year to explain the importance of capturing accurate data.

Coming soon, the hospital will be sharing monthly reports with staff to show the connection between the care delivered by frontline professionals and the direct impact on patients.

Duhamel added that it is essential for staff to recognize that as an acute care hospital in northern Ontario, its data provides an important picture of patient care in this region of the province. "Our data is the voice of the North," Duhamel explained to staff during the education sessions.

Contact the Health System Funding Reform helpline at or call 416-327-8379.

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