This is the story of how half a country came together to do more for their littlest hearts. A story about a group of hospitals, regional health authorities and care providers who grew a vision into one of North America’s largest regional care networks dedicated to children with heart conditions.
In 1992, child cardiac care in Western Canada looked very different. The four western provinces, Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba and Saskatchewan each had their own surgical program. Children within the provinces were cared for at local hospital sites, and very rarely did patients cross provincial borders to receive treatment. When it came to hospitals in provinces with lower populations, this meant smaller programs and fewer surgeries.
In 1994, in response to events that raised concerns about levels of care in Western Canada, people from across the child cardiac community – including nurses, cardiologists, surgeons, hospital administrators and families – came together to advocate for a common and shared goal: to do better for children who require specialized care.
Change was needed, and the path forward was found through emerging data. New research was showing that higher surgical volumes were having important effects on patient outcomes. The more surgeries performed, the better the patients were doing.
But there was a challenge. How could smaller sites, that serve fewer people, keep the higher volumes that would ultimately improve the outcomes for their patients? An idea was proposed that looked beyond borders, sites and specialities. An idea grounded in the belief that we are better and stronger together.
A recommendation was made to regionalize child cardiac care across the western provinces. Through this approach, surgical resources would be centralized at specific sites, and all of the hospitals would work together to share expertise and complement each other’s resources.
In 1997, the Western Deputy Ministers of Health jointly proposed the concept of a regionalized care network dedicated exclusively to children with heart conditions. The Western Canadian Children’s Heart Network would span 4 provinces, 3 territories, and more than 4 million square kilometers, and it would serve a population greater than 11 million people.
This was no small task. Customized systems had to be built to house and transfer patient data securely across provincial borders, terms of reference had to be developed, and official relationships needed to form between hospital sites. By 2001, after the tireless efforts of many, the strategy, plans and framework were ready.
Five children’s hospitals that previously operated independently were now connected. By collaborating on and coordinating care for children with heart conditions, any child, from anywhere in Western Canada, would have access to world-class care.
In 2003, the WCCHN administrative office was established to support growing operations. The first interprovincial surgical referral was made on October 26th, 2006, marking a significant milestone. Hospitals within the network began working together to deliver services, expand treatment options and ultimately, improve outcomes.
The years that followed saw WCCHN grow into the leading regional care network it is today. Using the WCCHN interprovincial database, hospitals were able to move patients to different parts of the WCCHN team to receive the services needed. Medical teams began collaborating regularly on complex cases. Weekly video conferences allowed care providers to plan and discuss specific cases together, review medical imaging in real time, and to both give and receive expert insight from peers. As Dr. Reeni Soni noted: “it’s like having twenty second opinions.”
As the size of the database grew, the network started to benchmark performance against international peers to ensure children were receiving care that was on par with the world’s leading hospitals. Patient data began to tell the story of the children touched by the network, and offered insights that helped to reshape the care that future patients could expect to receive.
Today, WCCHN is recognized internationally as a leading model for regionalization of care. More than a referral system or a database, the network has become a diverse and vibrant community of administrators, clinicians, care providers and families. The impact of the network has been evident throughout the years. Today, more children have access to world class cardiac care than ever before, more hospital sites have access to resources that complement their own, and more lives are being changed for the better.
But the work isn’t finished. Through new initiatives and the dedicated leadership of the Integrated Advisory Board, WCCHN continues to plant seeds for the future. By building connections, nurturing new ideas and bringing people together, the goal of doing bigger and better for little hearts lives on.
Our initiatives, methods and approach may have evolved over the years, but our mission remains the same: to offer a framework for the collaborative delivery of cardiac care to children in Western Canada. Because if the last twenty years have taught us anything, it is that we truly are better together, when it matters most.
Pediatric cardiac programs within each of the western provinces operate independently, each serving patients from their own province.
In response to events regarding child mortality in Western Canada, a recommendation is made to utilize a regional approach that spans across provincial borders. People from across the child cardiac community come together to do more, and better, for child cardiac patients.
Western Canadian governments step up to better meet the needs of child cardiac patients requiring specialized care. A new method of care delivery is proposed, and the concept of WCCHN is born.
After years of planning and behind the scenes work, the WCCHN terms of reference are developed. A framework
for the new regional network is created, and work begins on building systems and processes to facilitate interprovincial collaboration. This includes building an electronic referral system and data repository.
The WCCHN office is officially established, marking a historic moment for child cardiac care in Western Canada. At the time, one coordinator was hired.
The WCCHN team continues to grow with the addition of administrative and data specialists. Governance teams begin discussing the idea of a unified interprovincial database to house patient information. The database is intended to support interprovincial referrals and international benchmarking for post operative clinical outcomes.
The WCCHN database goes live at each of the 5 hospital sites in the network, becoming the first interprovincial data repository of its kind for the pediatric cardiac population. To support its use, a full-time database manager joins the team. The commitment to data and actionable insights begins. At this time, there are 37,155 entries in the database.
The team continues to grow with the addition of a systems analyst. WCCHN also begins benchmarking outcomes with international peers through participation in several quality registries. A commitment to measuring, evaluating and improving care quality and outcomes expands. There are now 77,612 entries in the database.
Care providers within the network continue to undertake initiatives to improve levels of care and outcomes. Common clinical practice guidelines are developed, and nurses expand efforts to evaluate patient and family satisfaction. WCCHN’s important abstract - “Five centres, one heartbeat: A network approach to healthcare delivery” - is presented at the 6th World Congress for Pediatric Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery in Cape Town, South Africa.
WCCHN works towards making patient data more useable with the adoption of IPCCC. Data is being used regularly to support clinical operations, administrative workflows and quality improvement activities. There are 97,582 entries in the database.
The Integrated Advisory Board is established to provide ongoing strategic direction and more diverse oversight. WCCHN continues to look beyond the surgical experience to more inclusive aspects of data, quality, health, care, and wellness.
WCCHN launches a first-of-its-kind funding competition, BoostUp, designed to help grow great ideas from the wider cardiac community. Parents, families, children and clinicians are invited to take part, solidifying WCCHN's commitment to advancing child cardiac care in new and innovative ways.
There are now 109,451 entries in the database.
View our biennial report for information on our achievements, milestones and financials.