Officials at the Ministry of Health and the Department of Public Health are implementing a “regionalization approach” to healthcare in The Bahamas by giving medical personnel at the primary healthcare community centres in New Providence responsibility for the overall administration of healthcare in the Family Islands.

The officials say the regionalization process should have a positive impact on the delivery of healthcare in The Bahamas, particularly in the country’s most far-flung islands, by allowing doctors and other medical personnel at the primary healthcare centres in New Providence such as the Flamingo Gardens, South Beach and Fleming Street Community Health Centres, to remain in constant dialogue and contact with doctors and other healthcare personnel in the Family Islands for which they are responsible.

This, they say, should result in the even better management of cases in those areas as a result of quicker access to consultations with key medical personnel in New Providence.

Minister of Health, Dr. the Hon. Hubert Minnis said the plan to “regionalize” is part of the Government’s move to decentralize the healthcare system away from its primary system, the Princess Margaret Hospital.

Dr. Minnis said the decentralization of the system will bring added benefits in terms of the quality and quantity of healthcare delivered to patients across the length and breadth of The Bahamas, but particularly those in the remote and/or far-flung islands.

“The regionalization of the healthcare system in The Bahamas is a new, creative and unique way of managing healthcare in the country,” Dr. Minnis said. “What regionalization means is that if the doctor responsible for the day-to-day care of patients on these islands faces any challenges, he/she will have a direct link to medical personnel at the centres in New Providence responsible for that region for consultation because they will be on-call at all times.

“We will also ensure that the doctors/medical teams responsible for the various regions visit those communities so that they would be matriculated within the system,” Dr. Minnis added.

The physician/medical teams will visit the islands of their responsibility every quarter to ensure “that everything is going well.” They will also be responsible for raising awareness of proper practices for the residents of those areas and any training that may be required.

“What regionalization will also accomplish is a continuous link between the medical community in the Family Islands, the on-island medical staff and the Community Healthcare Centre in New Providence,” Dr. Minnis said.

“The visits to the islands will also allow the senior physicians to have first-hand knowledge of what is going on in their specific regions which can only bode well for the delivery of healthcare in those areas.”

The Health Minister said the regionalization and decentralization of the healthcare system are two of the main thrusts to develop and improve the healthcare system in the Family Islands where expansive geography has provided certain challenges to the healthcare system in certain Family Island communities for many years.

He said medical personnel in the Family Islands will also expand the number of home visits to patients as part of the plan to build “medical communities” throughout The Bahamas.

“I think this will also greatly impact the delivery of healthcare in The Bahamas because studies have shown convincingly that when you build communities and the medical teams become a part of the community, the results are by far better as opposed to just a clinic sitting in isolation and waiting for individuals to show up for medical care,” Dr. Minnis said.

“If we become a part of the community; if we go out to them; if we attend their church services and other functions they are having, we will become a part of the community and persons will subsequently tend to be more open, more receptive to and with the physicians and the medical teams,” Dr. Minnis said.

Dr. Minnis said the home visits have worked very well at the Flamingo Gardens Community Health Centre, which was used as a model in New Providence. He said that experience should help to build the programme in Acklins, Crooked Island and Long Cay.

“The Pilot Programme is working very well at the Flamingo Gardens Community Health Centre,” Dr. Minnis said. “There are quite a number of individuals in that area who cannot come to the clinic and obviously if you ignore that segment and don’t go out to them that is where our morbidity and mortality rates and hospital costs all increase.

“It is my belief that the expansion of those same services in the Family Islands – particularly areas like Acklins, Crooked Island and Long Cay, among others – will work very well because when you look at the amount of individuals in the Acklins and Crooked Island who require home visits, you are talking about at least 20-25 per cent which is significant.

“If you ignore that particular segment, then obviously that segment will suffer greater morbidity, greater mortality and would have a greater impact on our healthcare facilities and healthcare costs,” Dr. Minnis added.