New Brunswickers in need of medical care this holiday season may have limited access to their family doctors, with many offices closing or operating with reduced hours. The provincial government and New Brunswick Medical Society are reminding patients about what options are available to them over the holidays.
New Brunswick Medical Society CEO Anthony Knight said anyone who is severely ill should go to a hospital emergency room, but said if the situation isn’t serious New Brunswickers can call the province’s 8-1-1 service.
“There are trained clinical professionals available to provide clinical advice and support to patients. There’s also a number of walk-in clinics around the province and on our website we have a listing of those clinics and the way in way to which to reach them or their hours, so we encourage folks to make sure they’re aware of the hours and whether they’ve changed over the holiday period,” Knight said.
Knight said pharmacists are also a valuable resource and can provide good support and advice when it comes to managing various seasonal illnesses.
“There are a network of very capable and trained professionals available to care for the population, but it’s always a challenge over the holiday season,” Knight said.
The New Brunswick department of Health also issued a news release with similar tips on how to obtain medical help in the coming days.
The province said people should ensure their prescriptions are up to date and filled prior to the holidays and know the holiday hours for local pharmacies.
When it comes to the big picture and access to physicians, Knight said after-hours clinics are only a temporary fix and said the goal is to connect patients to family doctors.
“You want a family doctor that’s following you throughout your care whether you have a chronic disease, you’re a senior, or a young person who may have interactions with the health-care system,” Knight said. “After-hours clinic provide a service to patients but they don’t provide the longer term followup and clinical care that you would see when a patient is attached to a family physician.”
Knight said that’s why the Medical Society and provincial government are looking to find ways to attract doctors “to a model that enhances access and makes patients and that connection to their doctor really valuable.”
WATCH: Doctor recruitment in N.B. trending positive but more help is needed
He said one-third of doctors in the province are over the age of 55 and 200 physicians are over 65 years of age.
“We know we need to look for ways to manage the overall change that’s going to occur in our physician population which is why we’ve worked with government to recruit new doctors to the province and to our new primary care model which encourages greater access to patients in the evening, during the day and on weekends, as well as on different tool like online scheduling so that patients can book themselves in to see their physician or a member of their help team so that they can have access when they need it, at the appropriate time,” Knight said.
He said they are also working on things like online visits so that if a patient has a question that maybe doesn’t require a face-to-face interaction that question can be asked and the patient gets the advice they need.
“In Fredericton we know there’s a new clinic that’s opened in the Regent Mall which is a great addition to the primary care network in the capital region and we also know that there’s about half-a-dozen new graduating physicians who are looking to open a new practice in the community later this year, so those are promising steps forward and we, in collaboration with the health authorities in government, have more work to do but these are good steps moving forward.
“I think we need to be proactive about our planning for the needs around physician recruitment, but also looking at the future retirements of doctors knowing that a third of physicians are over the age of 55, we need to start planning for what those next needs are going to be, and striking the right balance around designing services that meet the needs of patients and also are attractive and interesting in terms of a clinic setting for physicians.
Fredericton-resident Piere LeBlanc said he’s fortunate to have a family doctor. He said he’s had one for more than 20 years thanks to a referral from a friend.
He said it’s getting more and more difficult to book appointments with his doctor.
“It’s difficult. I mean, for the most part if it’s something like an emergency or we have to see a doctor quickly, typically we’ll go to an after-hours clinic. But I’ll book some appointments way ahead of time so there’s usually no issues,” LeBlanc said.
LeBlanc said if it was a minor medical issue he would use an online chat.
“If it was a sore stomach or something that could be handled online I don’t think it’d be a problem. I guess the only debate would be how to diagnose it without seeing a doctor.”