Cel­e­brated cen­te­nar­ian, Dr. Charles God­frey, talks pa­tient care in the mod­ern age of medicine

National Post (Latest Edition) - - CANADA -


It’s a lit­tle af­ter 10 a. m. on a Tues­day and Dr. Charles God­frey is run­ning a few min­utes be­hind sched­ule at the Al­bany Med­i­cal Clinic in Toronto. He’s just spent 45 min­utes with a woman whose r ecover y needed more of his at­ten­tion than he had an­tic­i­pated.

This is by no means a com­plaint. Quite the op­po­site. Dr. God­frey, who cel­e­brated his 100th birth­day in Septem­ber in the com­pany of for­mer On­tario Pre­mier Bob Rae and diplo­mat Stephen Lewis, rel­ishes ev­ery mo­ment he spends with each of his pa­tients. He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dr. God­frey i s, by his own def­i­ni­tion, proudly an old- fash­ioned doc­tor. That means a pa­tient is a hu­man be­ing first and fore­most — the dis­ease or com­plaint is sec­ondary.

“I am in­ter­ested in peo­ple,” he says of his en­dur­ing pa­tient- care phi­los­o­phy. “That is my fas­ci­na­tion. I j ust l ove work­ing with peo­ple.”

Dr. God­frey is one of the old­est prac­tic­ing physi­cians in North Amer­ica, but few are likely to be as busy. A grad­u­ate of the Univer­sity of Toronto’s Fac­ulty of Medicine, class of ‘ 53, and later study­ing neu­rol­ogy at Ox­ford Univer­sity, he con­tin­ues to work four days a week at four dif­fer­ent med­i­cal clin­ics, in­clud­ing the Al­bany clinic, where he serves as a re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion con­sul­tant.

“I have a de­li­cious de­sire to go back to the 1950s and be able to write down a pa­tient’s his­tory by hand, be­cause in those days you did that,” he says, re­flect­ing on a ca­reer that has now spanned nearly 65 years and taken him to more than 40 coun­tries around the world.

But the doc­tor is also de­cid­edly mod­ern in his ap­proach to 21st cen­tury medicine, in par­tic­u­lar the time and life- sav­ing po­ten­tial of tech­nol­ogy now avail­able to physi­cians.

Most peo­ple think of MRI ma­chines and CAT scan­ners when it comes to med­i­cal equip­ment, but some of the most pow­er­ful trans­for­ma­tions in Cana­dian medicine are hap­pen­ing be­fore a pa­tient even sees the doc­tor. The Al­bany clinic for in­stance, which has been i n con­tin­u­ous op­er­a­tion in east Toronto since 1946, with a staff of 35 fam­ily doc­tors and 44 spe­cial­ists, has part­nered with TELUS Health to adopt elec­tronic med­i­cal records (EMR).

EMRs al­low physi­cians to se­cure dig­i­tal ac­cess to pa­tient i nformation over their lap­top, tablet or smart­phone. Crit­i­cally, new EMR fea­tures such as those of­fered by MedDia­log give doc­tors the abil­ity to by­pass poor com­mu­ni­ca­tion tools such as fax ma­chines and se­curely pass med­i­cal records to other physi­cians.

For pa­tients, the im­pact of this tech­nol­ogy is im­me­di­ate, re­duc­ing long wait times to see a spe­cial­ist and clos­ing gaps in con­ti­nu­ity of care when con­sult­ing with other health­care providers or even de­lays in clar­ity on how to treat rel­a­tively mi­nor ail­ments. In ad­di­tion, im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween fam­ily doc­tors and special- ists can re­duce pa­tient re­fer­rals by as much as 40 per cent, ac­cord­ing to Cana­dian health re­searchers.

That dif­fer­ence can be crit­i­cal in se­nior care, in par­tic­u­lar, con­sid­er­ing the av­er­age el­derly pa­tient sees seven physi­cians across four dif­fer­ent clin­i­cal set­tings over a year. And physi­cians car­ing for pa­tients in­ter­act with as many as 229 other physi­cians at 117 dif­fer­ent prac­tices each year.

In the past 12 months, the Al­bany clinic has worked with TELUS to com­plete a dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion to fur­ther im­prove clinic op­er­a­tions and pa­tient care, in­clud­ing in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal re­fer­rals, im­proved com­mu­ni­ca­tion with hos­pi­tals for pa­tient tests, and re­plac­ing out­dated sys­tems with EMR- com­pat­i­ble tech­nol­ogy. The clinic is now pre­par­ing to do more work over the com­ing year to fur­ther im­prove the pa­tient ex­pe­ri­ence, in­clud­ing an on­line ap­point­ment book­ing and self-check-in sys­tem.

Dr. God­frey’s own tech go- to list re­cently ex­panded to in­clude a smart­phone. He was in­spired to im­pro­vise on his usual com­mu­ni­ca­tions style when a pa­tient who only spoke Rus­sian ar­rived in his of­fice. The woman quickly turned to an on­line trans­la­tion app for help in get­ting her mes­sage across.

“I spoke in English and the phone spoke back to her in Rus­sian. So she told it what her prob­lem was and then that was trans­mit­ted to me in English.

“That’s why I like medicine,” he says of the ex­change. “That was fas­ci­nat­ing.”


Dr. Charles God­frey re­cently cel­e­brated his 100th birth­day at the Fac­ulty Club on the Univer­sity of Toronto cam­pus.

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