N.B. medical society recommends permanent virtual care, annual funding boost

Click to play video: 'New Brunswick Medical Society calls for changes in health-care system' New Brunswick Medical Society calls for changes in health-care system
WATCH: The New Brunswick Medical Society has sent the government a long list of changes it wants made to the health-care system. The pandemic has put a strain on resources, but Dr. Jeff Steeves says there are solutions. Nathalie Sturgeon has the story – Aug 25, 2021

The New Brunswick Medical Society (NBMS) has made 57 recommendations to improve the already-strained health-care system in a report sent to the government in April.

President Dr. Jeff Steeves said New Brunswick is the unhealthiest it’s ever been, with the longest wait time for surgeries in the country and 40,000 people on a waitlist for a family doctor.

The first-of-its-kind report was done through responses by 500 physicians, according to Steeves. The report was released in response to a discussion paper issued by the government in January.

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“Recurring themes in the NBMS report include reducing poverty for the most vulnerable New Brunswickers, realigning limited resources and leveraging technology in a strained health system, and investing in the people delivering health care,” Steeves said in a release.

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The society was encouraged by this year’s increase of 5.1 per cent in the provincial health-care budget. It is calling for a commitment of a six per cent increase annually over five years to continue the process and growth.

“A lot of these recommendations are to take what we’ve got, but to add to that and try to improve it,” he said in a briefing with reporters.

Making virtual care permanent

Steeves said virtual care became very important during the blackout months of the pandemic, and it will serve the people of New Brunswick long after the pandemic is over.

He said it allowed patients to stay connected with the person who knows them best — their primary-care provider.

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“As we move forward and we’ve opened up to green, it won’t be 100 per cent as it was,” he said. “We have to find a place to put that in practice because it can allow efficiencies and conveniences that can change the health system. So it’s important, it’s critical. It’s not going to go away.”

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The NBMS also said the system needs to leverage the technology for improvements within. They point to things like improved access and better use of electronic records.

Incentivizing after-hours clinics

Steeves said it will be important to improve after-hours clinics to move some of the influx and overflow at emergency rooms.

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“You do get paid differently in a walk-in clinic,” he said. “The fee-code structure tends to reflect that these are less acute problems and there also no continuity of care. One of the ways to provide access is to re-envision what walk-in clinics are, perhaps to increase the responsibility they have to patients in pernicity of care and longevity of care.”

He said it means making those clinics act more like primary care providers.

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Health department reviewing report

The Department of Health said it has the report and is currently in the process of reviewing it with stakeholders.

“We thank them for their submission,” said department spokesperson Gail Harding. “The recommendations from the Medical Society, along with the many submissions from other health-care providers and citizens, are being reviewed in order to build a five-year provincial health plan.”

Harding said while many of the suggestions aren’t new, it is appreciative of the perspective and its ability to help shape the health-care system moving forward.

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The New Brunswick Medical Society said it feels this will help move the needle.

“The New Brunswick Medical Society believes these recommendations could have a significant impact if implemented by government,” Steeves said.

He added they are hopeful to hear from the government soon.

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