The nature of family practice is changing, shifting to group practice and team care approach. (File photo)

Changing the picture of family medical care

Efforts ongoing to recruit family physicians for the South Okanagan Similkameen

It sometimes seems like there is never enough doctors, especially family physicians, to go around.

According to Health Match B.C., a provincially funded job site for healthcare professionals, there are five practices in Penticton looking for a new physician, three in Summerland and one each in Princeton, Oliver and Osoyoos.

“We’re holding our own, but we could use a few more. There are recruitment efforts happening all of the time,” said Tracy St. Claire, executive director of the South Okanagan Similkameen Division of Family Practice, which is responsible for recruitment efforts.

St. Claire said the nature of family practice is changing. Decades ago, the family doctor was in solo practice, but there is a shift to group practices. She thinks the shift might help alleviate some of the problems with people finding a primary care physician.

“What we are seeing from those newer grads is that they are preferring to work in larger clinic practices and that seems to be the trend that is happening everywhere,” she said, adding that communities around the province are looking at how family practice works

“In September, the ministry put out new policy papers in the direction of creating new care networks,” said St. Claire. A team practice, she said, gives the patient access to a number of skills that go into a care team — the right provider for the right care at the right time — and also allows the team members to temporarily take up the slack, when a member is on vacation or they are looking to fill a vacant position.

“We have a number of practices in our area that have multiple doctors. Most of them do have their own group of patients,” said St. Claire. That care team through a clinic can expand past physician care.

“The other thing we have done to alleviate some of the more vulnerable areas in primary care is a couple of years ago we worked with Interior Health to open the Martin Street Centre to work with mental health and substance abuse clients.”

In that case, doctors work closely with social workers as part of the care team.

“I think we will see more of those co-operative efforts come forward and it will reflect on patient care,” said St. Claire.

Ray Markham, executive director of the Rural Co-ordination Centre of B.C., said it’s a fact of life that some patients are having to travel long distances for a family physician.

“I don’t think it’s good. I don’t think it’s the way that it should be,” said Markham, whose group is also working on recruitment and retention strategies.

“I think everybody recognizes that that’s something that we need to be focusing on. I know the ministry is putting a whole bunch of incentives and programs into trying to help fill that out. And that’s not just a rural thing, that’s across the whole province.”

Markham says there are more doctors heading to rural communities, thanks to incentives, but it’s still an issue in smaller communities too. Primary care networks, he said, are perhaps a way to create ongoing relationships for family care, as an alternative to people having to use walk-in clinics.

“As we go through various phases and stages of our life, we have different needs for a doctor. That doesn’t mean there’s no value in being attached to a clinic or a doctor where someone knows you,” said Markham.

“I would say you’re probably looking at getting kind of less optimal care if you don’t have a primary physician, and probably more costly care as well.

“Otherwise there’s going to be a bunch of tests that are repeated if you don’t have one person who’s following all that kind of stuff, so there’s a whole bunch of reasons why we should be pushing to get good access to good longitudinal primary care.”

Steve Kidd
Senior reporter, Penticton Western News
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