James Cook University ISSN 1445-6354
Over the past 25 years, the attrition of small volume rural surgery programs across Western Canada has been significant and sustained. The Joint Position Paper on Rural Surgery and Operative Delivery (JPP) offers a consensus policy framework for the sustainability of rural surgical programs by nesting them within larger regional programs. The many recommendations in the JPP coalesce around the recognition that surgical care should be providedas close to home as possible. To achieve this, surgical care should be delivered within rural and regional surgical programs integrated into well-functioning networks staffed by generalist specialist surgeons trained across surgical disciplines and family physicians with enhanced surgical skills(FPESS). There are important issues to be addressed in the creation of these networks, not the least of which is the sometimes challenging relationships between the stakeholders in these networks and skepticism about the training of FPESS and the safety and quality of low volume surgical programs. Relationships extend from the patient-provider nexus to include inter-professional relationships and those between the pentagram partners (patients/communities, care providers, administrators, researchers and policy makers). Equally important to resolve is the issue of the minimum threshold volume of local surgical activity required for a sustainable professional workforce in a small rural program. A collaborative effort by key stakeholders in British Columbia has produced a program designed to overcome these challenges and build effective networks of rural surgical care, based on the synergistic interplay of five key pillars to support small surgical sites. These five pillars include clinical coaching, continuing quality improvement(CQI), remote presence technology to mitigate geographic challenges, sustainable local surgical capacity, and evaluation of dimensions of network function and clinical outcomes. This is the first time that the integration of these five pillars, each derived from best available evidence, have been positioned together as deliberate strategic policy to improve rural surgical care.