At this moment, there are an estimated 176,000 people in British Columbia who do not have a family doctor but wish they did. The challenge of finding someone to look after your health on a regular basis is more than frustrating, it can also affect your health.
For most people, contact with the health system is through a primary care physician where they receive care for most of their everyday health needs. Primary care is typically provided by family doctors in BC. That’s just fine, unless you do not have one. And that’s where A GP for Me comes in.
This program is a province-wide initiative to strengthen the primary care system and focus on ensuring patients who want a family doctor can find one. A GP for Me is a collaborative program of the BC Ministry of Health and Doctors of BC (formerly BC Medical Association). Its focus is to strengthen the primary care system and making sure patients who want a family doctor can find one, along with expanding the capacity of the primary care system.
A GP for Me was tested with great success in three communities: Cowichan Valley, Prince George and White Rock-South Surrey. The program succeeded in finding primary care providers for about 9,400 people who did not previously have care. The program is now being offered across British Columbia.
At the community level, A GP for Me is being implemented by Divisions of Family Practice (DoFP), community-based not-for-profit groups of family physicians working together to achieve common health care goals. There are individual local organizations in each of Powell River, Sunshine Coast and Sea-to-Sky.
One role for the DoFPs is to identify where the gaps exist in their community’s primary care including the number of people looking for doctors. They will then follow up with a community plan to improve local capacity and methods for finding doctors for patients who are looking for one.
The program works on two levels. First, there are fee incentives for physicians to increase their capacity for new patients and to take on more complex cases and to deal with the extra needs of patients with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease. At the community level, funding has been made available for DoFPs to identify gaps in local primary health care.
This may all sound very nice, how important is it for people to have their own family doctors? The short answer is that there are benefits for individuals and for the health care system as a whole. Patients who see the same doctors regularly find the doctor knows them better and is able to provide better advice to manage health needs. This is especially true in cases of chronic illness or complex needs; there is a continuity of care that leads to better outcomes. A good relationship with a primary care provider also helps to prevent health problems. Indeed, research shows that people have the best health outcomes when they have a strong relationship with a primary care practitioner. The community benefits as well from lower costs for health care, including better prevention.
A GP for Me will not instantly solve the problem of finding a family doctor for everyone who needs one, but it is an important step in the right direction that will increase access over time.
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.