McMaster University-led research team proves collaboration between primary care and public health improves health

December 17, 2012, Ottawa —The quality of healthcare a patient receives hinges largely on how well primary care and public health are knitted together at the local level, says Ruta Valaitis, an associate professor of nursing at McMaster University and holder of its Dorothy C. Hall Primary Health Care Nursing Chair.

Valaitis and her investigator teams in Ontario, Nova Scotia and British Columbia explored how public health and primary care can boost collaboration to improve health and the quality and effectiveness of primary health care systems in Canada. Strengthening Primary Health Care through Primary Care and Public Health Collaboration, released today, is the culmination of her team’s four and half years of research funded by the Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (CFHI).

“Primary care and public health collaboration makes sense and working together is important in all healthcare systems to improve the delivery of services,” said Valaitis.

“Many Canadians may remember the frustration of standing in a long line for a flu shot during the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009. But, it doesn’t have to be that way,” said Valaitis. She points to one northern community exemplified in their report, where public health and primary care staff teamed up to build an integrated scheduling and immunization tracking system, while sharing staff and involving volunteers.

Primary care is the first point of entry to a health care system, often a doctor or a nurse. Public health is an organized activity to promote, protect, improve, and restore the health of individuals, specified groups, or the population.

“Collaboration between primary care and public health can no longer be viewed as a nice to have, it must be seen as need to have,” said Stephen Samis, Vice President, Programs, Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement. “This report further validates the need for a closer relationship between public health and primary healthcare, and how important such a partnership can be to improving the overall healthcare system.”

The report’s findings indicate that the health issues most often addressed through collaborations in all provinces include communicable disease control, chronic disease prevention and management, parent-child programming, youth and health promotion programs, and women’s health programs.

Valaitis and her team have designed an ecological framework to facilitate and sustain the partnership based on key systemic, organizational, interpersonal and intrapersonal factors. 

Barriers to successful collaboration include lack of funding, policy, and lack of an integrated information and communication infrastructure. Another dilemma, Valaitis said, is that primary care is not mandated to collaborate, whereas public health is provincially mandated to work in partnerships with other organizations.

Valaitis said nurses will continue to play a key role in successful collaborations.

“In a lot of cases it’s the public health nurses, primary care nurses and nurse practitioners that tend to be the glue in the partnership to make it work,” she noted.

This research was funded in large part by CFHI and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research HSPRN Partnership Program.

The Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement (cfhi-fcass.ca) is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to healthcare improvement and transformation for Canadians. CFHI collaborates with governments, policy-makers, and health system leaders to convert evidence and innovative practices into actionable policies, programs, tools and leadership development. CFHI is funded through an agreement with the Government of Canada.

McMaster University, one of four Canadian universities listed among the Top 100 universities in the world, is renowned for its innovation in both learning and discovery. It has a student population of 26,000, and more than 150,000 alumni in 128 countries.

For more information, or to arrange an interview please contact:

Veronica McGuire
Media Relations, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University
905-525-9140, ext. 22169
vmcguir@mcmaster.ca

Eileen Melnick McCarthy
613-728-2238 ext. 233
Canadian Foundation for Healthcare Improvement
Eileen.MelnickMcCarthy@cfhi-fcass.ca