Research has indicated that close to 5 million Canadians do not have a family doctor.
While there are many reasons for this, it is unfortunately far too common a story.
Research shows the importance of a family physician, both at the individual patient level, as well as at the system level.
Family physicians provide, among other things, needed continuity of care for their patients.
Given that there is evidence that having a primary care physician is better for the patient, better for the system, and more cost effective, it is troubling that many Canadians who want and need a family physician cannot find one.
This is the reality in Nova Scotia.
The number of family doctors in Nova Scotia can’t keep up with the growing demands of an aging and sicker population. Many Nova Scotians have chronic conditions that require complex care. They need to be seen more often by a variety of health-care providers. Collaborating and coordinating care is an important (and time consuming) role all doctors play.
Nova Scotia physicians believe that every Nova Scotian deserves to have a family doctor because family physicians have a unique and valuable role in the delivery of high-quality primary health-care.
How Can We Get There?
Physicians want every Nova Scotian to have a family doctor, so much so that at their most recent annual conference they passed a motion supporting this vision.
In order to make this a reality, as a province we need to recruit and retain more doctors though providing supportive working environments for physicians, improved work life balance, appropriate compensation, and improved access to electronic medical records (EMRs).
Some of this work has already begun.
In 2012, Social Sector Metrics Inc. and Health Intelligence Inc. worked with the Department of Health and Wellness, physicians, Doctors Nova Scotia, Dalhousie Faculty of Medicine, the District Health Authorities and others, to develop a 10-year physician resource plan (PRP).
Essentially, the PRP outlines the need for more doctors.
The area with the greatest need is family medicine. Updated data from 2012 suggests that the province will need to recruit almost 590 family physician full time equivalents (FTE’s) over the coming ten years; 165 of which would be additional to current resources. (The remainder would be to replace current physicians who either retire or relocate)
The goal of the PRP is to ensure that Nova Scotia has the right mix and distribution of doctors to meet the needs of communities across the province.
Since the plan was released a Family Medicine Residency program in Yarmouth has been expanded, four new collaborative primary care practice teams have been established and a Recruitment and Retention Action Team, Medical Education Working Group, Physician Resource Plan Advisory Committee have been created.
A full update on the progress of the PRP can be found here.
There is still much work to be done over the coming years.
In order to make Nova Scotia an attractive place for physicians and their families to live and work, we need:
- Fair and competitive compensation
- Environments that support work-life balance
- Access to services, such as specialists, tests, beds
- Technology, such as EMRs
- Opportunities to work in collaborative care teams
- Supportive, inclusive and welcoming communities
While there is still a lot of work to be done, the right people are working together towards the same goal – better access to primary care and better health outcomes for all Nova Scotians.