One part of our health system seems to work well. I got my son into a quiet after hours medical clinic -- with an appointment. This was part of a Primary Care Network after hours care.


So ERs may be a mess, but PCNs seem to be nicely picking up the load.


PCNs are groups of family physicians funded by the province for extra services: Hiring specialists in their clinics (asthma educators, or a nurse to do Pap smears) running clinics for those without a doctor, consulting about chronic care and, importantly, staffing after hours care clinics for PCN member patients.


There are four PCNs in Calgary and three have after hour clinics. Only the South Calgary is left out. Some 70 per cent of family doctors belong. But too few know care exists. My doctor is a member who never mentioned PCN services; Health Link didn’t suggest the PCN when I called about my son’s eye infection.

It was one of my Mount Royal students who alerted me to the after hours clinic at the old Grace Hospital. Just a few blocks from home.

I called Health Link back. We were called the next day for a same night appointment.

Alas, there was no signage to the clinic, which caused some confusion. So more calls back to Health Link — the after hours clinic has no phone number.

My son left with a good assessment, and a prescription. His file was faxed to his doctor. His infection resolved.

Rick Ward of the Foothills PCN says all research shows primary care is the best health investment.

Some 19 per cent of those at its after hours clinic said they would have gone to an ER instead. The Foothills after hours clinic saw 7,000 patients in one year.

Is that enough? The northeast Mosaic after hours clinic is considered underutilized — so a clear “how to use” these clinics communication is crucial.

Family doctors have long been the lowly wage earners. Alberta Health wisely put extra money toward family physicians through PCNs.

Each can decide on what services best suit its patients’ needs. So more doctor control.

After hours doctors are paid a flat fee and there seems to be little trouble staffing the clinics.

This spring, as Alberta Health renegotiates PCN contracts, after hours care should be a core part of PCN financing.

Our health system can work, and parts are working better. I’m buoyed by one non-hellish after hours experience. The secret needs to be out.