In recent days, you have seen a number of media stories on the future of primary care in BC. It’s not surprising that the focus has also been on A GP for Me, a joint initiative of the Doctors of BC and the BC government.
A GP for Me has a number of goals: to help British Columbians to become attached to a family doctor and better support vulnerable patients, to help physicians grow the capacity of their practices, and to help build a stronger relationship between doctors and patients. We know that when patients have a strong, continuous relationship with their doctors and primary care teams, their health outcomes will be better.
So what have we achieved?
First let’s look at the numbers. We know that a total of 103,000 vulnerable patients have been matched with a doctor so far under this initiative. Another 60,000 people were attached to new doctors when their GPs retired or left their communities. And those numbers are still growing as many local initiatives are just hitting their stride.
Did we find doctors for everyone who wanted one?
No, we did not. The reality is there is no easy solution to this challenge. Our patients are aging and need to see doctors for medical treatment more often. Their issues are complex and need more time. We are seeing more doctors retire each year than ever before, and that trend is only growing. And practices are no longer easily transitioning from retiring doctors, as younger doctors are seeking different ways to practice, in line with globally recognized advances in technology and primary care training.
That said, in addition to attaching 100,000 patients to family doctors, we have achieved something else of importance through A GP for Me – we have started a transformation of primary care, with access for patients in ways that were not possible before. Here are some examples:
We are bringing together more teams of professionals to help support patients like nurses, therapists, mental health professionals and social workers. Team members can reduce the pressure on doctors to provide all aspects of care, and free up more clinical time for patients.
Examples include: five doctors working with mental health professionals and social workers at the Martin Street Outreach Centre in Penticton, to support patients with mental health and addiction challenges. The new Sunshiners Network in the Fraser Northwest has a registered nurse working closely with doctors to help seniors with limited mobility stay in their own home. Patients living in East Kootenay communities and other areas of BC are getting the community supports they need with the help of social workers who work directly with GPs. A new, multi-disciplinary clinic at Nanaimo’s John Barsby Community School connects students in grades 8 through 12 to doctors, nurses and various community supports without leaving the school grounds.
We are creating systems that make it easier to attach patients to doctors. For example, 2,000 residents from Chilliwack to Boston Bar who did not have a primary care provider found one by calling “PAM” – a local phone line and attachment mechanism. In the Central Okanagan, more than 1100 seniors aged 65+ have been matched to a family doctor through a new Mobile Assessment Unit and physician registry.
We are recruiting new doctors and working to retain those currently in practice. By last fall, almost 170 new GPs came to practice in BC communities through A GP for Me. Local examples include: 15 GPs recruited to the communities of Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows, connected 13,500 people to a doctor, including patients from two retiring doctors. Twenty-eight new physicians came to the Victoria and South Island communities, creating access for an estimated 25,000 people to a family doctor.
We are assisting retiring doctors with succession planning and, where possible, helping to transition their patients to other doctors. As a result of this work, 60,500 people across the province have avoided losing access to a doctor by getting matched to a new GP when their doctor retired.
We are also working to ensure systems and technologies in doctor’s offices are efficient, so we can maximize current capacity and free up time available for patients.
For doctors in our province, these achievements are a source of pride. We have stepped up as true partners in building positive change – more than 3000 doctors in local Divisions of Family Practice coming together with Health Authorities and 900+ community partners to work on the access challenges that patients are facing.
This is innovative, and important. By combining doctors’ perspectives and experiences with those of local partners on the ground, we have been able to develop reasonable and
All of this great work has established a strong and critical foundation for next steps as we continue to work with partners to improve primary care, which includes where appropriate the expansion of team-based patient medical homes.
Bottom line, the work we have started – and continue to build on – is making a difference for patients across the province. It takes time, and of course can’t happen fast enough especially for people without a doctor. But we have made big strides, and our work with partners will continue to bring positive results for patients around the province.
Dr Charles Webb