Three years may be a more realistic goal for providing a family doctor to every Kamloops patient who wants one, a physician with the Thompson Division of Family Practice said on Monday.
Dr. Shirley Sze said multiple strategies — including those announced by Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid and the BCMA last week — are being developed to reach that goal.
“We have a very energetic working group and we’re committed, with Interior Health, to a bigger strategy,” Sze said. “We do have a problem and we need to work up multiple avenues.”
MacDiarmid and BCMA president Dr. Shelley Ross launched a new program on Friday called A GP for Me, based on successful pilot programs to match patients with physicians.
A GP for Me begins April 1 with funding of $132 million. The program offers funding so that family doctors can consult with patients by phone, incentives for doctors to take more patients with complex conditions as well as funding for groups such as the division of family practice.
However, not all are convinced that the stated goal of matching every patient within two years is a realistic one in Kamloops, where thousands of patients rely on walk-in clinics because they don’t have a family doctor.
Family physicians say they are unable to take on any more patients and there is some professional reticence about dispensing information over the phone.
Sze said there was nothing new in what was announced, but the pilot projects have shown progress. The approach succeeded in matching more than 9,000 patients with doctors.
“I don’t think they’ve been able to attach all patients, but there will be additional funding for communities to look at attracting physicians,” she said.
Sze said the phone option is not intended to substitute for direct consultation or diagnosis.
The Thompson division is one of six non-profit groups around the province set up in 2010 to provide family doctors with input into the health-care needs of their patients. It grew from a partnership between the B.C. health ministry and the BCMA, and it’s been forging new partnerships on its own.
One of those partnerships is with Venture Kamloops, the City’s economic development arm, which teamed up with Interior Health and various community partners five years ago to establish its Red Carpet Program. The program might be described as Welcome Wagon for physicians, ensuring that prospective doctors get a warm welcome and support.
On Thursday, a local media production premieres an interactive recruitment video to extend the red carpet electronically.
Abigail Anderson of Mastermind Studios said the company identified with a community need: only one of its 16 employees has a family doctor. They decided to produce the video — which took four months and cost $25,000 — for donation to Venture Kamloops. In the past, the company acted as a community partner and donated locally produced wine for the same effort.
“We can get them to have a really great time and hopefully they won’t leave,” Anderson explained. The video offers inquiring doctors a self-guided tour.
The video will debut at an invitation-only event on Thursday at RIH. As of Friday, it will be posted at the Venture Kamloops website.
Sze said the family practice division is looking ahead to next year, having signed onto the UBC Department of Family Practice residency program. The program should send six to eight young, licensed residents to Kamloops for three years of training. That number could rise to 12 to 16 as the program develops.
“If they like the community, they like the way we practice here, we have a good chance of retaining some if not all of them,” she said. Retaining them will require a collective effort by everyone, she added, “to be open to the concept of having a trainee look after you.”
As for welcoming, “I don’t think our city has too much of a problem with that,” she added.
A doctor’s decision to stay often hinges on family considerations, such as where they want to raise children or whether their spouse can find gainful employment, she said.
The recent temporary closure of the Kamloops Urgent Care Clinic after a flooding problem served to underscore the extent of the doctor shortage. The clinic, one of only three in the city, reopens Tuesday.
The health ministry reported on Monday that its efforts are paying off, having attracted 268 physicians to B.C. in 2012, a 24 per cent increase over 2011.
Interior Health alone recruited 75 physicians last year, yet the majority of those who took up practice in Kamloops are specialists or work at RIH and are not family doctors.