On 22 February the government of BC and the BCMA announced that they are partnering to improve primary care in our province through a joint program called “A GP for Me.”
After pilot projects in a few communities the program went province-wide 1 April. Funding is available for family physicians to consult with patients by telephone, and incentives are provided for GPs to take on new patients and more patients with complex conditions such as cancer. Money is also available to local divisions of family practice to work collaboratively with health authorities to support better access to primary care.
Success has been achieved in the pilot communities through opening of new primary care clinics and the development of multidisciplinary teams. Apparently, 9000 patients without GPs have now been matched in these communities.
Now I don’t want to rain on this parade, but most of the GPs in my community are working full out and don’t have any room for extra patients. It’s not as if a bunch of family physicians are sitting around killing time and now that these financial incentives have been announced they are going to cancel their afternoon golf and work harder.
I suspect the timing of this announcement and the funding behind it has a political basis, but I am happy for any peaceful, patient-driven collaboration with government. However, I am old enough to remember some of the poor decisions of previous governments. When I was in medical school at UBC the number of positions was decreased to save money. We were graduating 120 new physicians per year while our closest neighbor, Alberta, was graduating around 200 physicians yearly from their two medical schools. This shortsighted approach definitely contributed to the current shortage of physicians in our province. Granted, this has now been remedied by significantly increasing the size of our graduating classes through innovations such as distributed medical education and teleconferencing.
I suspect that the reason so many new patients were able to be matched to a family physician in the studied pilot communities was the use of allied health professionals to lighten the load for the physicians involved. Many of these matched patients likely have a GP but see a nurse practitioner or other health professional during many of their visits. I’m not saying this is a bad thing—just pointing out that family physicians should be recognized for the hard work they have done over the years without these resources. I am sure all of us would have loved to have a funded nurse practitioner or other allied health professional to help ease the load years ago.
I can see the biggest boon to my practice being the ability to call patients on occasion instead of bringing them in for an appointment to fulfill my current fee-for-service practice. I will participate in this initiative through my local division of family practice as this trend of utilizing our family physicians more efficiently is a good thing. After all, I am not only a “GP” but also a “Me.”
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