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Cardiac outreach clinics increase access to care

Heart patients in the Sydney and Yarmouth areas can receive specialized care closer to home thanks to the Cardiac Outreach Clinic initiated and sponsored by Halifax-based cardiac surgeons.

Because highly specialized cardiac surgical care is only available at the QEII Health Sciences Centre in Halifax, patients in Sydney, Yarmouth and surrounding communities often had to travel long distances for appointments. By moving the providers closer to the patient, Nova Scotians from these areas can have improved access to care, better outcomes through more ongoing care, and can experience shorter waits, without the burden of travel.

For patients like Joanne Hall, the clinic allowed her to meet with her cardiac surgeon near her home community of North Sydney, instead of having to travel for an appointment. Patients visiting the clinic can be seen for pre-operative assessments as well as post-surgical follow up appointments.

Hall began experiencing heart trouble last spring which prompted her primary care physician to refer her to cardiac surgeon, Dr. Greg Hirsch, who is also the senior medical director for Nova Scotia Health’s Perioperative (Surgical) Services network. Joanne had regular appointments with Dr. Hirsch through the clinic until her aortic valve replacement and double bypass surgery at the QEII this June.

“Dr. Hirsch was one of the doctors that came into speak to me after I had the angiogram (tests to identify blocked or narrow blood vessels), and I had regular appointments with him after that,” she said.

With the increased costs of gas, food, and accommodations, an important appointment becomes expensive and time-consuming, posing a barrier for this essential care. For patients like Hall, travel to the QEII for appointments can be an enormous challenge.

“Travelling to Halifax would be a lot of hassle because I was still working at the time and so was my husband,” she said. “Having the clinic in Sydney is so convenient rather than having to pack up and go to Halifax for a day or two.”

For Dr. Hirsch, traveling to his patients means lessening the stress and impact of travel for them while also gaining greater insight into his patients’ conditions which cannot be achieved through virtual care alone. Through the outreach clinic, patients access the same level of care they would expect if they were returning to the QEII.

“Being able to examine a patient in person is so important, especially immediately before and after their surgery, to get a sense  of their frailty and ability,” said Dr. Hirsch. “Furthermore, I am travelling once and can see up to 24 patients who no longer must make a round trip.”

Since 2022, about 200 patients have attended the Sydney and Yarmouth clinics and a third Cardiac Outreach Clinic in Prince Edward Island. This amounts to less costs and inconvenience for patients, less time away from home, work and family, and almost 150,000 km in avoided travel by patients.

Hall is grateful for the support and care she’s received through the clinic and recognizes the impact it will have on other patients.

“We were in a good position, we’re older and financially fine, but for many people to travel for appointments it would be an expensive ordeal,” she said. “Having that clinic close to home is beneficial for so many people.”

Now comfortably back at home in North Sydney, Hall is recovering well and was able to see Dr. Hirsch in Sydney for her postoperative follow up appointment in early fall.

“I’m healing well, and I feel good. Having the cardiac outreach clinic and Dr. Hirsch saved my life.”

Cardiac patients living near Yarmouth, Cape Breton, or Prince Edward Island who are referred by their family doctor, community cardiologist, or referring physician are eligible to receive care through the outreach clinic if openings are available during their follow up period.

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