Primary-care teams, rather than ‘doc in a box’ are the new health-care reality

60- or 70-hour work week for doctors is no longer a reality, thereby impacting accessibility

Kamloops This Week

We may never return to the “doc in a box” physician for every resident scenario, Health Minister Terry Lake told Central Interior members of the  Canadian Home Builders’ Association recently.

But, he added, that doesn’t mean each resident in Kamloops and across B.C. should not have access to quality patient-focused care.

“The reality is, we have more doctors per 100,000 people than ever before in B.C.,” Lake said, adding the difference is physicians in 2016 are not like the physicians of a generation or two ago.

Doctors today tend to specialize, Lake said, and for those who remain family physicians, the work/life balance is far more important than it once was. The 60- or 70-hour work week for doctors is no longer a reality, thereby impacting accessibility.

That problem — of too few available GPs, resulting in long lineups at walk-in clinics and at hospital ERs — is not unique to British Columbia, Lake note.

In B.C., he said, 15.5 per cent of the population does not have a family doctor. In Alberta, that figure is 20 per cent, in Manitoba, it is 19 per cent and in Quebec, it is 25 per cent.

This reality is not new and is part of the reason the province has been transforming its health-care system, a system Lake said was designed in the 1960s for when the population was young.

He said it was essentially a hospital-insurance program aimed at providing acute care and now needs to address the chronic health issues of an aging population.

“We have to design the health-care system for that population, not for the population of the ‘60s,” Lake said.

On that point, the MLA for Kamloops-North Thompson said, the province has been working toward a patient-centred focus and keying in on prevention and health promotion.

A primary care model moving past the 1960s-era health-care model that can be resistant to change involves teams of health-care workers — in person and virtually — patients can see.

Lake said the team could include a doctor, nurse practitioner, nurse and counsellor, all of whom would have the patient’s medical record. Who the patient sees on a given visit would depend on what issue needs addressing.

The benefits touted include supporting continuity of care over time and across settings, reducing pressure on emergency rooms and making health care more sustainable.

In addition, the government has made legislative changes to allow people to stay in assisted care longer, rather than entering residential care.

Today, Lake said, $2 million per hour is spent on the province’s health care, with the annual budget ballooning to $15 billion from $8.5 billion in the past 15 years.

“It’s hard to get your head around that number,” Lake said. “There’s not going to be the old model of a doc in the box, the ‘60s model. But there should be a team that meets your needs.”

How would YOU improve health care?

The province’s all-party Select Standing Committee on Health has launched a public consultation on the sustainability and quality of B.C.’s health-care system.

The public is invited to provide input on the following questions:

1. How can we improve health and health care services in rural British Columbia? In particular, what long-term solutions can address the challenges of recruitment and retention of health-care professionals in rural B.C.?

2. How can we create a cost-effective system of primary and community care built around interdisciplinary teams?

3. How can we enhance the effectiveness of addiction recovery programs?

British Columbians may participate in the consultation process by attending a public hearing or by making a written, audio or video submission.

The committee will hold public hearings in Kamloops, Victoria, Vancouver and Prince George. A conference call option will be available for those unable to attend in person.

The meeting in Kamloops will take place on Wednesday, July 6, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at a yet to be determined location.

To learn more about the committee and how to participate in the consultation, go online toleg.bc.ca/cmt/health.

Deadline for submissions is: Friday, July 29.