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Extreme Heat Events

Info and tools for health care providers on the dangers of extreme heat, and how to properly prevent, diagnose and treat heat-related illnesses.

New Online Program Prepares Health Care Providers for Extreme Heat

Health care providers across Canada now have access to a free online program at extremeheat.ca to better prepare them to prevent and manage heat-related illness. This program comes at a critical time as extreme heat events, more commonly known as heat waves, have affected health and resulted in a significant number of preventable deaths in recent years.

The extremeheat.ca website provides links to both the health care provider program, as well as a public education site. The program for health care providers has a comprehensive self-learning module with case studies, community tools like a discussion forum, and a collection of valuable practice resources. The extreme heat online program is the result of a collaborative effort among the Division of e-Learning Innovation at McMaster University, Health Canada, the Ontario College of Family Physicians, and the Clean Air Partnership.

“This program provides one-stop shopping for a practical clinical guide to preventing and managing heat-related illnesses for physicians and other health care professionals and trainees,” said Anthony J. Levinson, M.D., Associate Professor at McMaster University, and Director of the machealth.ca online continuing health education portal that hosts the Extreme Heat program.

The program is the first of its kind designed specifically for health care providers in Canada to learn about extreme heat events and heat-related illnesses - topics that are rarely covered during training. Offering online accessibility and a high level of multimedia and instructional design, the program reaches health care providers in a way that would not be possible with in-person continuing education programs. The program is based on Health Canada’s Extreme Heat Events Guidelines: Technical Guide for Health Care Workers, and includes targeted Fact Sheets and patient brochures as well.

“Climate change has been called the defining issue for public health in the 21st century, and family physicians and other health care providers are key to helping to address the health effects of climate change,” said Jan Kasperski, CEO of the Ontario College of Family Physicians.

Experts believe that climate change will significantly impact the number, length and effect of extreme heat events, resulting in more health problems related to the heat, including the possibility of more deaths in Canada. For example, in the absence of effective mitigation and adaptation measures in Toronto, Windsor, London and Winnipeg, the number of days with a maximum temperature of 30°C is projected to double by 2021-2040 and more than triple by 2081-2100, likely resulting in further heat-related mortality.

“Health care worker involvement is needed at all levels in Canada to make decisions concerning adaptation and planning for extreme heat events,” said Jim Frehs, Manager, Climate Change and Health at Health Canada. “This program is appropriate for a broad audience of different health care workers and will help at-risk patients and their direct caregivers become aware of prevention options for heat-related illness.”

The research related to extreme heat events has identified several approaches to aid in the prevention of, and response to, heat-related illness. One of the main gaps identified by this research is the lack of education and training material for health care workers regarding extreme heat events. This online program helps to fill this gap, benefiting not only the health care worker, but also improving the knowledge transfer to those at greatest risk. The majority of heat stroke cases and heat-related illnesses are preventable through behavioural changes to manage the risks related to extreme heat events. This program is designed to address these issues by providing evidence-based information for effective public health action and clinical practice by health care workers.

"Canada's population is aging," said Kevin Behan, Director of Research at Clean Air Partnership. "Considered with climate change, this will result in increasingly vulnerable populations and will become a growing and more consistent concern for health care workers. Taking action now to provide Canada’s health care workers with the tools and training they need to protect our communities is a vital step in adapting to this pertinent issue."