A province-wide initiative to ensure all B.C. residents receive access to family doctors is taking its cue from a successful Semiahmoo Peninsula pilot program.
On April 1, the provincial government is set to launch A GP for ME – based on a program launched in South Surrey and White Rock in 2010 – which aims to match all B.C. residents with general practitioners by 2015.
The White Rock-South Surrey Division of Family Practice – led by project lead and White Rock physician Dr. Brenda Hefford – was one of three divisions given the opportunity to test out the project in 2010.
At the time, almost all practices in the area were full or over-capacity, Hefford said. Now, following the work done in conjunction with the Fraser Health Authority, Peace Arch Hospital and Community Health Foundation and the City of White Rock, all residents in the area have access to a family physician.
“Before, people would float around to walk-in clinics, go to the emergency room or not go at all,” Hefford told Peace Arch News Friday. “Now, all residents in the community have access to a family doctor.”
The improvements included creating a primary care access clinic in White Rock’s Centre for Active Living, which provides care for those who are most ill without a family doctor, including recently discharged hospital patients. The clinic consists of a team of nurse practitioners, mental health workers and general practitioners who work collaboratively to provide the services. Other improvements include coaching to create efficiencies in offices and computer systems, and a community program for doctors who provide short-term coverage for general practitioners who are ill or away.
“Since we started implementing the improvements, we have been able to recruit seven new doctors – three who replaced doctors who left the area and four who opened new practices,” Hefford said. “What’s ended up happening is that from two years ago, when we were full and had no patients getting in, we’ve now attached 4,500 patients to doctors who didn’t have them before.”
The division has also created a central phone number (604-531-3111) for residents in the community that is run through the primary care access clinic, through which they can be set up with a doctor in the area.
The success of the pilot program in South Surrey and White Rock – as well as Prince George and Cowichan Valley – prompted the province to give the green light to spread the initiative across B.C.
The new program will include funding to enable family physicians to consult with patients by phone; incentives for physicians to take on more patients with complex conditions, such as cancer; and funding to support local physician groups to work collaboratively with health authorities to support better local access to primary care, the government release states.
Total funding for the program is $132.4 million, which will include $40 million distributed over the next three years to Divisions of Family Practice; $22 million to enable physicians to consult with patients via telephone (physicians will receive $15 per call, and will be able to bill a total of 500 telephone consultations a year); and $20 million to support physicians in providing medical care to vulnerable populations including those in residential care and those with severe disabilities.
For the White Rock-South Surrey division, the plan is to continue providing support to those in need and maintain the success they have enjoyed through the pilot project, as well as share their program with the rest of B.C.
“The province will learn from the things we have done and will also develop solutions unique to their communities,” Hefford said.