Family physicians are increasingly finding their role in the Nova Scotia’s health-care system undervalued and potentially marginalized, a new report says.
The report, released Wednesday by Doctors Nova Scotia, highlights what it calls the unique role and value of family physicians amid the province’s ongoing doctor shortage.
As health care becomes increasingly collaborative and scopes of practice change, the report said family physicians remain the backbone of an effective health-care system.
“There is a lot of change happening in the health care landscape both around the world, but especially in Nova Scotia where a lot of providers are expanding their scope and there are more collaborative teams,” Dr. Tim Holland, president of Doctors Nova Scotia, said in an interview.
“It’s becoming quite unclear where family doctors fit into this new health-care system, so we thought this was a great opportunity to … help articulate how family doctors fit into this new world.”
Health Minister Randy Delorey said he welcomed the report – released in partnership with the Nova Scotia College of Family Physicians – and recognizes the extensive training and valuable skill sets that family physicians have.
He said while many doctors have expressed interest in working in a collaborative team environment, he said some prefer the traditional model.
“In the present evolving primary health-care system in Nova Scotia, we’re providing opportunities for both the primary care collaborative team environments and the traditional fee-for-service model,” he said.
Holland said the report is not intended to be “territorial” or “adversarial” about the changing roles of health care providers, but instead clearly define and articulate the unique value family doctors provide patients.
The report said family physicians’ medical knowledge and skill set places them in an ideal position to manage patients with complex medical needs.
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They also play an important role co-ordinating patient care, and ensuring health-care resources are used efficiently, the report said.
“Sometimes called expert generalists, family doctors treat the whole patient and must have an understanding of all of the body’s systems,” Dr. Natasha Deshwal, president of the college, said in a statement.
“This is increasingly important as they help patients manage multiple chronic illnesses.”
Meanwhile, there are currently 55,801 people on a waiting list for a family physician in Nova Scotia, or about six per cent of the province’s population, as of Dec. 1.
“There are not enough physicians to meet the health-care needs of Nova Scotians,” the report said. “We believe that every Nova Scotian deserves access to a family physician.”
To address the doctor shortage, Delorey said the province and the health authority have stepped up recruitment efforts, revamped compensation for primary care providers and added 10 additional family physician residency seats.
Holland acknowledged there has been “big movement forward” to address the doctor shortage.
Despite what he called the continuing acute need for more physicians in Nova Scotia, he said he’s optimistic the province is headed in the right direction.
Doctors Nova Scotia said this is the first time a Canadian professional medical association has published a position paper on the role and value of family physicians.