September 5, 2011

CANADA: Doctors to visit elderly patients at home

TORONTO, Ontario / The Star / News / September 3, 2011

Heather James, 79, receives a house call by Dr. Sabrina Akhtar. Tara Walton/Toronto Star

By Sandro Contenta - Feature Writer

Heather James once sat down to list the jobs she’s had in her life and came up with 58, from tobacco picker to lawyer’s assistant to cleaning construction sites.

Her passion, however, is making art, and in her kitchen hangs her favourite creation — a large canvas with swirls of bright colours, as if rainbows are being sucked into a vortex.

“This is the painting I truly love,” says James. “When I did this I was so happy, you have no idea.” She still is: “I’m 79 and it’s thrilling.”

But her body is breaking down. Her bones are brittle from osteoporosis, her blood pressure is high, her chest aches, and, sometimes, she sees double.

In January, she injured her spine and could no longer get out of bed. Frustrating weeks of trying to get appropriate medical care ended when she found Dr. Sabrina Akhtar, a young family physician who makes house calls.

Akhtar is the founder of a fledging project for homebound seniors at Toronto Western Hospital. Supported by a small team of nurses, dietitians and social workers, she spends three afternoons a week visiting patients like James.

Since March, Akhtar has discovered that James also has high cholesterol and shows signs of perhaps having suffered a mini-stroke. She got James a hospital bed for her Junction Triangle home, a walker, a high toilet seat, cholesterol pills, heart medication and an appointment with a cardiologist.

“You have no idea how much of a relief this is for me and my family,” James says, referring to house calls from Akhtar and her team. “If I hadn’t found out about them I’d still be lying in bed.”

James’s good fortune is rare in Ontario. But the provincial Liberal government promised this week to spread it to many others.

“House calls are coming back to Ontario, so anyone who has difficulty getting to appointments will be cared for right in their homes,” said health minister Deb Matthews.

She promised to spend $60 million annually to make it happen ..... Continue reading

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