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Can Fam Physician. 2019 Aug;65(8):e344-e355.

North End Community Health Centre in Halifax, NS: Relationship-based care goes beyond collaborative care to address patient needs.

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Psychiatry resident at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Co-Faculty Lead for the Service Learning Program of the Global Health Office at Dalhousie University.
Medical anthropologist, Professor of Pediatrics (Infectious Diseases), and Director of the Technoscience and Regulation Research Unit at Dalhousie University in Halifax, NS.



To identify and describe features of relationship-based care that contribute to a successful collaborative model of primary care delivery.


Focused institutional ethnography using a critical medical anthropology approach.


The North End Community Health Centre (NECHC) in downtown Halifax, NS.


Twenty health care providers employed or previously employed at the NECHC.


Qualitative data collection included participant observation, recorded and transcribed semistructured interviews, informal discussions, and policy document analysis. Data collection continued until saturation was reached, between December 2014 and October 2016. Data were member checked, coded, and triangulated with evidence from policy documents and informal conversations to establish credibility.


The NECHC offers high-quality care to the community, welcoming marginalized, vulnerable populations. The NECHC's recognized success is grounded in unique relationships among providers, patients, and the community. Four key themes contributing to relationship-based care in the clinic's operation emerged: an activist provider identity, cultural safety, provider-patient relationships, and provider-provider relationships. Inadequate provincial funding mechanisms limit the work and development of the clinic.


Collaborative care is advanced by health authorities to improve quality of care and reduce health care costs. This model is still poorly understood in Nova Scotia. The findings, which draw on focused ethnographic fieldwork and analysis of the NECHC, suggest that the NECHC is a pragmatic real-world model of collaborative health care. The success of its approach relies on a deliberative democratic realization of reflexive practice through relationship-based care.


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