Template or poor data? Leaked documents raise questions about B.C. urgent care centres

B.C.’s Ministry of Health insists a leaked document purportedly containing internal health authority data on the province’s much-hyped Urgent and Primary Care Centres (UPCCs) is a “template” of how information would be presented, even though there are no notations indicating that’s the case.

The BC Liberal Party obtained the 31-page report with data from an internal dashboard used by health authorities and the Ministry of Health, titled “Urgent and Primary Care Centre Report” outlining information from April to December of last year.

Unlike other leaked internal documents, this one does not contain the words “draft” or “template” anywhere and raises questions about just how many patients are seen at the government-run facilities and whether the ministry of health even knows.

A summary page indicates that over the nine-month period, each practitioner saw only 4.6 patients per day on average, but a ministry spokesperson insists the document is a mockup of a dashboard “created using partial and inaccurate electronic encounter data,” and that “UPCC physician services averaged 26 in-patient visits per day compared to an average of 22 in-person patient visits per day for family physicians in community service locations.”

When the opposition Liberals raised the document in the legislature during question period, the health minister responded with general statements on health care during the twin crises of the pandemic and overdose deaths. He addressed the issue more directly later.

“You can look at information partially or a portion of the visits as they were working on the mockup of the dashboard, I gather, and did that,” said Adrian Dix when asked by CTV News. “The reality is there are a lot of visits to Urgent and Primary Care Centres."

The ministry staffer who reached out late in the afternoon said that early last month the ministry “in good faith reached out to (its) partners to show them a mock-up of a UPCC dashboard.”

“In communicating internally, we made it very clear that we were giving a template, an indication of how data will be reported transparently going forward, not a finalized report,” the spokesperson said.

QUESTIONS REMAIN

One of the province’s experts in health-care systems raised questions about the validity of the data when CTV News presented her with the document, pointing out government should be proactively releasing that kind of information.

“Ultimately, these UPCCs represent a huge investment (of) public dollars at a time when access to family physicians is really a huge and ongoing challenge, and that merits rigorous evaluation and it merits data transparency,” said Lindsay Hedden, an assistant professor at Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences.

“We really need to understand the relationship between UPCCs and our ongoing emergency department challenges.” 

She added that there will be growing pains every time a new health-care feature is established, and that collecting the data on usage in a dashboard format is unprecedented and most welcome. But she also called on the government to provide more-detailed information, noting most of the reasons for patient visits to UPCCs were classified as “general symptoms.”

“This report provides updated metrics on the patients, practitioners, and services at these facilities to allow for continuous feedback and improvement to our health-care system,” reads the final page of the report, which says it is “for use in analysis and planning, as well as for distribution to the UPCC administrative teams such as the Family Divisions of Practice and the their respective health authorities.”

OPPOSITION REVIVES ISSUES OF TRANSPARENCY AND TRUST

Political parties, medical experts and others have criticised the NDP government’s lack of data transparency during the pandemic, and the Liberals insist this is another example of keeping the public in the dark. 

“If the data is inaccurate, then the government needs to make sure that they sort this out,” said Official Opposition leader Shirley Bond.

“It's another level of confidence, it's another level of transparency."

She also pointed out the long waits for medical attention are indisputable in every corner of the province.

“We have a province where you should not be waiting for nine hours to take a sick child to have the treatment and care that they need,” said Bond. “We need government to step up. We need everyone to be at the table.”

The ministry ended its email to CTV News promising: “Our commitment is to continue to find a way to better report on the performance of UPCCs.”