The impending closure of one of the two remaining walk-in clinics in Sidney has patients upset and wondering what impact the closure will have on their ability to access medical care.
Associated Physicians, a clinic that operated with three doctors with their own practices, had also offered a walk-in portion to their practice. Those doctors will be merging with Ocean Pier Medical at the end of August and will cease to see walk-in patients.
The move comes on the heels of the retirement of three other family physicians in Sidney over the past year, which again left scores of patients without a family doctor and left with little choice but to use a walk-in clinic for care.
The closure of the Associated Physicians Walk-in will leave the last remaining walk-in service at Peninsula Medical feeling even more overwhelmed.
According to the office manager at Peninsula Medical, the clinic regularly has patients waiting “in droves” for the clinic to open and, by 8:30 a.m. they are booking walk -in appointments for late in the afternoon. Some may not be seen that day and will have to try again the following day.
But, according to Dr. Andrea Lewis of Peninsula Medical, the situation regarding walk-in services is just a symptom of a far greater need to fundamentally change the way that medical care is delivered.
“We still operate a walk-in clinic portion of our practice, but we’ve been working very hard to change the way services are delivered to make the best use of the family practitioners in the community (and reduce the need for walk-ins),” said Lewis.
“We can graduate more doctors, of course, but there is no way of knowing if those doctors will choose to go into a traditional role as a family practitioner within a traditional office setting.” There are a lot of more attractive alternatives available for them working in hospitals, walk-in clinics, O.R. assists and elsewhere.
She said that, in order to make family practice more attractive, there needs to be a fundamental shift in the way care is provided and that family doctors need to be part of a team approach to the provision of care.
That’s why the Ministry of Health has committed to not only provide funding for up to 200 new general practitioners to work in team-based care but also has invested $115 million to fund 200 additional nurse-practitioners across the province.
According to Lewis, her clinic has been working toward the team based care model for a decade and will continue to move in that direction.
“In the team based model a patient will make an appointment and will perhaps first see a nurse-practitioner with expertise in primary care. They may have their blood pressure measured, for example, and have a discussion with the nurse about what the problems may be and some options for care. The doctor can then see that patient for the last five minutes to go over the care plan and provide any addition care that their unique skill sets can contribute,” explained Lewis.
“Or, instead of a nurse, the patient may have questions about their medication and will first see the pharmacist or perhaps they need to speak to a counsellor. Doctors have a skill set that can be best utilized in otter areas, freeing them to see more patients within that team based model as well as access to supports in diagnosis and in difficult cases.”
Lewis said that, by utilizing this model, her clinic at Peninsula Medical have been able to attract four new family physicians in the past two years, and hope to attract even more in the coming year.
“The old model is just not sustainable. Doctors go into family practice because they want to help patients and the community but with the traditional model of delivery of care, that was becoming ever more difficult,” she said.
“We want to be able to deliver a good level of care to the community while still allowing our physicians with the quality of life that they need in order to do their job. The team based model lets us do that.”